With Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, John Corbett, Ian Nelson. Written by Barbara Curry. Directed by Rob Cohen. Rated R for violence, sexual content/nudity and language. 91 minutes.
You sometimes hear about movies that are so bad they’re good. Few movies actually live up to that notion of a movie that is so hilariously awful they it is perversely entertaining. THE BOY NEXT DOOR does. It is–at least unintentionally–the laugh-riot of the year.
The premise of the movie is that Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is a high school teacher with a teenage son named Kevin (Ian Nelson) who is separated from her husband Garrett (John Corbett). Her elderly neighbor’s young nephew Noah (Ryan Guzman) comes onto her one weekend when she’s alone. Afterwards, she realizes it’s a mistake but he becomes obsessed with her. He turns out to be a dangerous, violent stalker. You can see where this is going.
In fact that’s why the movie is so funny. It’s painfully obvious. It’s as if the filmmakers got a copy of the book “How To Make A Thriller For Dummies” and then followed the instructions, beat by beat. Every cliché you can think of is here. Stalker being charismatic and charming so no one suspects him? Check. Stalker proving to be increasingly frightening? Check. Scene where heroine seemingly knocks him unconscious and then drops the weapon and turns her back on him? You’d better believe it.
It’s bad enough that the characters act as if they’ve never, ever encountered this material. The problem is that the filmmakers proceed as if they have no idea how tired the material is, including characters being surprised by someone other than the stalker, a scene that happens more than once. By the time we get to the climax–featuring a coup de grâce that would not be out of place in a Road Runner cartoon–we know this has been a very special experience. This is that rare, truly awful film that is, nevertheless, hilariously entertaining.
It’s pointless to talk about the acting here given that no one is asked to do anything remotely human. Characters proceed with their action because that’s what the plot requires, from Claire giving into Noah’s lust, to Noah’s immediately violent reaction to her regrets, to the total lack of curiosity by various authorities to what’s going on. A highlight is the showdown between Noah and Claire’s friend, the school’s vice-principal (Kristen Chenoweth). With every giant red flag that Noah is a dangerous psychotic, her response leaves you wondering how she ever got her job in the first place.
One expects terrible new films in January thrown in among the Oscar contenders for contrast and because the studios are clearing the shelves of their misfires. “The Boy Next Door” is different. It is a slickly-made thriller made by people who either don’t know or don’t care what an absurd mess it is. The result is a film that is at once terrible and hugely entertaining… for all the wrong reasons.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.