The Boy Next Door

Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Guzman in The Boy Next Door

Shortly after the theatrical debut of The Boy Next Door, a clip from the film started making the rounds on the internet. In that clip, the titular boy (Ryan Guzman, Step Up Revolution) gives Jennifer Lopez (Maid in Manhattan) a “first edition” of Homer's Iliad as a gift (it's worth noting that this first edition looks like it was bound in the 1950s). It's a hilariously dumb moment, but best appreciated as a self-contained thing: sitting through 90 minutes of a similarly dumb movie proves near-unendurable.

The plot is basically a gender-flipped version of Fatal Attraction/Play Misty for Me with a scandalous twist. Lopez plays Claire Peterson, a high school English teacher who's still carrying the emotional baggage of a tough divorce. Her ex (John Corbett, United States of Tara) is eager to fix things and start over, but Claire's friend Vicky (Kristen Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies) insists that it's time for Claire to move on. Meanwhile, Claire's teenage son Kevin (Ian Nelson, The Hunger Games) is dealing with his own set of volatile emotions, uncertain of whether his parents might reunite and of whether he actually wants them to.

Okay. Claire's next-door neighbor is an elderly guy named Mr. Sandborn (Jack Wallace, The Bear), who is scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant in the near future. So, Mr. Sandborn's handsome young nephew Noah (Guzman) is staying over for a while to help out with things around the house and help his uncle during the recovery process. Noah begins attending the school where Claire teaches, becomes good friends with Kevin and enthusiastically offers to help Claire with a few household chores.

Then, Claire and Noah sleep together.

Claire realizes that she's made a terrible mistake. If anyone at her school finds out that she's slept with a student (albeit a student who is twenty years old – a carefully-explained peculiarity designed to make this whole scenario seem less creepy), she'll lose her job. She tells Noah that they have to end things, and that's that. Noah flies into a rage, and immediately launches into a series of increasingly threatening attempts to turn his one-night stand with Claire into a real relationship.

The Boy Next Door has a lot of problems, chief among them the fact that Noah's behavior doesn't seem believable for a second. I realize that there are jealous boyfriends who stalk and threaten women, but Guzman's performance is so flat that every bit of his insanity seems phony. Noah is a character compiled from the cliches of similarly-themed movies, and the eventual reveal of his deepest, darkest secrets is nothing short of preposterous. Lopez fares a little better in the sense that she actually knows how to convey real emotions, but she also struggles with making us believe that her character's terror is real.

The plot gets dull and predictable fast, so you find yourself asking questions about other things. What is Kristen Chenoweth doing in this movie, anyway? Doesn't she have better things to do than play the one-note best friend character who has nothing to do? How is it possible that Lopez manages to clean up a whole room full of dirty pictures before the school principal opens the door? Why does Kevin's attitude towards his parents seem to alter dramatically depending on the needs of each scene? Why don't any of the violent things that occur in this film draw the attention of police? Why does a supposedly brilliant computer whiz fail to take even basic security measures to hide his folders full of evil schemes? In every case, the answer is, “Shut up, we have your $10 already.”

I suppose there's some fun to be had in detailing the film's countless failings, but devoting that much mental energy to the matter seems fruitless. It's a bad movie. The dialogue is bad, the plot twists are bad, the direction (provided by The Fast and the Furious helmer Rob Cohen) is bad, the sex scenes are bad, the editing is bad, the music is bad and eventually my mood was bad. The whole thing might have been slightly more effective as an “unintentional fun” sort of deal if the tone wasn't so nasty, but the film's second half uses excessively violent, provocative content in an effort to convince us that it that it means business. I wasn't really angry at it, I was just tired of it and wanted it to end as quickly as possible. Don't waste your time with this movie.

The Boy Next Door

Rating: ½★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
elease Year: 2015