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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 01:02 am

Avoid a wrong turn down Lakeview Terrace

Lakeview Terrace Running time 1:50 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace East Parkway Pointe

Sometimes, the sheer force of personality a performer has is enough to make us overlook the shortcomings of a film's script. Surely, director Neil La Bute knew what he was doing when he cast Samuel L. Jackson in the lead of his new film, Lakeview Terrace, a thriller that's initially engaging but winds up imploding under the weight of its increasingly ridiculous circumstances, despite a frightening turn from its star.

Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) are an interracial couple who move into a suburban Los Angeles home, next door to Abel Turner (Jackson), a diligent cop who goes out of his way to make the neighborhood safe with his own nightly patrols. Trouble is, his so-called concern for the Mattsons soon escalates into harassment as this widowed dad views their liberal marriage as an affront to his conservative values and he vows to drive them from their home. His pranks (lights shining in their bedroom, crashing parties) escalate rapidly and soon the Mattsons find themselves fighting for their sanity and their lives with nowhere to turn.

This film plays like a combination of Pacific Heights, with its neighbor-from-hell played by Michael Keaton, and Unlawful Entry, starring Ray Liotta as the cop-from-you-know-where. Not only is Terrace no better than these flicks but it's even more manipulative. The script by David Loughrey and Howard Korder relies far too much on circumstance to be logical, while having things culminate on the hottest day of the year and having a raging forest fire knocking on the neighborhood's door is nothing but overkill. And while the cast is a game one, even their best efforts, or Jackson's charisma, can't save this film from its sordid self.

I know this is a backhanded compliment, but I ended up not hating The Women nearly as much as I thought I would. That's not to say I would recommend it, but this remake of the 1939 classic proved to be far more engaging than Sex and the City, primarily because of, shock of shocks, Meg Ryan. It's no secret that the career of American cinema's former sweetheart has been in freefall in recent years and early box office numbers for The Women suggests it won't be the parachute she was hoping for. However, her performance as wronged wife Mary Haines is her best in years, as the actress convincingly runs the gamut of emotions, going from blissful to despair and, finally, to rebirth. She wins us over with the sense of charm that made us love her in the first place.

I wish I could say the same about her co-stars and this misguided production. The story is far too similar to the original to have any relevance for modern women, while many of the characters are broadly drawn and realized in a similar manner. Eva Mendes vamps shamelessly as the piece's home-wrecker, Debra Messing is around for comic relief, which she fails to provide with her broad turn and Jada Pinkett Smith delivers a one-note performance as an anger-driven lesbian. Only Annette Bening survives unscathed as Mary's best friend who helps her recover when her life is upturned by her unfaithful husband, only to ultimately betray her. The drama between these two women is compelling. Unfortunately, the rest of the production only succeeds in setting back the image of the independent woman with its vacuous characters and ridiculous circumstances.

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