Don’t Open the Door for ‘The Boy Next Door’ ; ‘Timbuktu’ is Stunning

the boy next door
Movie Review – ‘The Boy Next Door’


Jennifer Lopez leads the cast in The Boy Next Door, a psychological thriller that explores a forbidden attraction that goes much too far. Directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and written by Barbara Curry, the film also stars Ryan Guzman, John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth.

R (for violence, sexual content/nudity and language.)

Mystery & Suspense

Boy Next Door

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Note: If anyone cares, there’s a reference in the next-to-last paragraph that enters spoiler territory. As in end-of-the-movie spoiler territory.

For the laughably bad debacle that is The Boy Next Door, I won’t necessarily blame credited writer Barbara Curry. After all, we know how Hollywood works. Maybe what was shot isn’t reflective of what she wrote. Maybe her script was a serious erotic thriller with real characters, smart dialogue, and a surfeit of tension. If that was the case, she deserves better than having her name associated with this misfire. But even if The Boy Next Door is a faithful representation of what Curry penned, there are enough other problems for her to share only part of the blame. It’s badly directed, poorly edited, and features some of the most unconvincing acting this side of a soup commercial.

Hollywood no longer understands how to make erotic thrillers and when they try, the result more often than not ends up like The Boy Next Door. Although the movie is rated R, it appears to have been afflicted with PG-13-itis. You want erotic? Look back at Body Heat, Basic Instinct, and Adrian Lyne’s canon. (The film’s premise isn’t that far from a gender reversed Fatal Attraction, which Lyne directed.) In The Boy Next Door, the sex scene is shot in such a way as to minimize exposure. Hand-bras and quick cuts abound. It’s not sexy. It feels like we’re in editing 101 where we’re being instructed how to piece together a sex scene when an actress has an iron-clad no-nudity contract. To make matters worse, although the absent nudity in this scene would be justified, the nakedness that occurs later in the film (in a scene not featuring Jennifer Lopez) is gratuitous.

The problems only begin with the botched sex scene. There’s nothing resembling erotic tension between Lopez, who plays 40-something high school teacher Claire Peterson, and the “almost 20” student with whom she has a one-night stand, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman). The filmmakers, perhaps worried about the age difference, selected Guzman, who was 27 at the time of filming, and do everything possible to make him appear older. This creates a major suspension of disbelief hurdle to vault over. It doesn’t help that Guzman appears to have been chosen more for his studly appearance than his acting ability. His looks are model quality but his range is limited. In attempting to convey strong emotion, he does a lot of jaw clenching and line growling. Meanwhile, Lopez appears to have largely forgotten how to act. Like Guzman, she looks great but gone are even distant echoes of the fantastic performance she gave in Out of Sight.

The subject matter – about the consequences of sex between a teacher and student when he becomes obsessed with her – exists almost entirely in the realm of moral grays. That doesn’t prevent director Rob Cohen (the same Rob Cohen who brought us the first The Fast and the Furious) from painting with blacks and whites. He does everything possible to make Claire sympathetic and likable – a generous woman who, in a moment of weakness, makes a mistake. On the other hand, Noah is the personification of evil – a psychopath who seduces his teacher (and friend’s mom) and then uses every tool in the book, including blackmail and murder, to terrorize her into being with him.

Okay, so The Boy Next Door isn’t interested in being a smart, serious look at sexual obsession. It just wants to be a popcorn thriller. Epic fail. The movie repeatedly insults its audience by treating viewers like ADD-afflicted kindergarten students. On one occasion, a character has a violent outburst in the halls of a high school that results in him striking a vice principal and beating another student so badly that his skull is fractured. Yet, even though the perpetrator is legally an adult, there is no police involvement. Later, someone believes that erasing a video file from a computer makes it go away. (Even if there isn’t a back-up, “deleted” files can be retrieved.) And, of course, murderers always keep records of their crimes in easily identifiable folders on a computer that isn’t password-protected. Details like these, when taken in concert, make one wonder whether The Boy Next Door might be a sly, subversive parody of the genre. It can’t be as dumb as it seems, right? Sadly, I’m afraid that would be giving it too much credit.

In the end, The Boy Next Door is simply frustrating. It’s unfortunate to see a ripe premise rot on the vine. It’s depressing to watch the antics of a supposedly savvy protagonist who engages in antics that would embarrass a 1980s scream queen. And it’s ridiculous to observe a hunky villain who thinks he’s in an action movie and needs to be killed several times in order to stay dead.

Ah, but it’s January and The Boy Next Door is what we have come to expect from this month. The only thing missing from this excursion into wretchedness is Nic Cage, but there’s really no role for him. Better productions than this are released direct-to-video every week but I guess someone thought Jennifer Lopez’s name might retain a vestige of box office clout. Whether or not The Boy Next Door represents a referendum on her drawing power, it makes a statement about the kinds of roles available to her because no one with self-respect would appear in this movie if presented with another option.


Movie Review – ‘Timbuktu’


Not far from the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, proud cattle herder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino) lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki), his daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), and Issan (Mehdi Ag Mohamed), their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes abruptly in this stunningly rendered film from a master of world cinema.

PG-13 (for some violence and thematic elements)

Art House & International , Drama

Film Review: ‘Timbuktu’
Abderrahmane Sissako confirms his status as one of the true humanists of recent cinema with this stunningly shot and deeply empathetic drama.

by Jay Weissberg
In the hands of a master, indignation and tragedy can be rendered with clarity yet subtlety, setting hysteria aside for deeper, more richly shaded tones. Abderrahmane Sissako is just such a master, and while previous films have showcased his skill at bringing magnetic dignity to his characters, “Timbuktu” confirms his status as one of the true humanists of recent cinema. Set in the early days of the jihadist takeover of northern Mali in 2012, the film is a stunningly shot condemnation of intolerance and its annihilation of diversity, told in a way that clearly denounces without resorting to cardboard perpetrators. The film’s Cannes berth and critical acclaim will translate to strong Euro arthouse play with niche Stateside appeal.

Most news reports from the time focused on the destruction by foreign Islamic fundamentalists of Timbuktu’s cultural heritage sites — unconscionable acts that scar a people’s psyche. Sissako powerfully alludes to this within the first few minutes, as a truckload of jihadists machine-gun traditional masks and statuettes. It’s a perfect way of suggesting the laying waste to centuries-old traditions while allowing the director to then focus on people, rather than artifacts.

As in his previous pics (“Bamako,” “Waiting for Happiness”), Sissako offers a choral structure, here designed to convey the multicultural makeup of the area where city dwellers of various ethnicities and the nomadic Tuareg people coexist in generally respectful fashion. Newly arrived Arabic-, French- and English-speaking jihadists patrol the city and its environs (shooting was actually done in the Mauritanian cities of Oualata and Nema), enforcing bans on music, soccer, most socializing, and uncovered women. The local imam (Adel Mahmoud Cherif) calmly argues against their narrow, ultra-orthodox dogma, but he has no influence over these intruders, a rag-tag bunch composed of doctrinally committed leaders and their largely irresolute young followers.

Rather than turning the jihadist captains into stereotypical demons, “Timbuktu” shows them as men who have not entirely forgotten their hearts but encased them in steel, projecting an outward sympathy while holding to a strict interpretation of scripture that denies self-realization, especially for women. Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri) drives to the tent of a Tuareg family to convince the strong-willed Satima (Toulou Kiki) to cover her head. Her neighbors have already fled, and she tells her loving husband, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), that they should move closer to other people, but he wants to stay put.

A goat and cattle herder, Kidane is the proud father of Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), 12, and guardian of orphan Issan (Mehdi AG Mohamed). While driving the herd to water, Issan loses control of his charges and a prize cow gets caught in the nets of fisherman Amadou. Furious, Amadou spears the beast (the animal’s demise is tenderly shot); Kidane arrives packing a pistol merely as a threat, but their physical struggle makes the gun discharge, and the fisherman is killed. The sequence has a startling emotional grip yet also a protean beauty, capturing the action in a long shot of the shimmering lakeside expanse.
Punishment is swift, not just for Kidane but also for others who have transgressed the fundamentalists’ interpretation of sharia law. In town, soldiers arrest four people for making music, subjecting the singer, Fatou (Fatoumata Diawara), to 40 lashes. She kneels, dressed in a black abaya, tears staining her face, gently crying out and softly singing. It’s impossible not to compare this with Patsey’s flogging in “12 Years a Slave,” which was pitched at a far more hysterical level as the camera registered her grotesquely flayed flesh. Steve McQueen’s scene is painful to watch and emotionally draining, yet Sissako renders a similar sequence with significantly more discretion and makes its effect far more profoundly felt.

Abdelkrim shoots off the top of a tree in the dip between sand dunes, as if even nature is immodestly exposing herself. Individuality is being snuffed out, and though momentarily protected by her eccentricities, the brightly robed Zabou (Kettly Noel), part Lady of Shalott, part madwoman, surely won’t be allowed to keep flouting the authority of the self-designated Islamic police. “Timbuktu” makes very clear that this wave of intolerance isn’t grown from Malian soil, even if the relationship between nomadic shepherd and rooted fisherman is fraught with its own tension. “We are the guardians of all deeds,” says a jihadist to the imam, thereby dismissing any attempt at freedom of expression and movement.

Sissako states he was unbearably moved by an online video of an unmarried couple buried up to their heads and stoned to death; he includes a similar scene, showing just enough to make the viewer wince, yet not so much as to feel like a gory spectacle. It’s part of the power of “Timbuktu,” which endows its characters with pride and love, shows their dignity stolen, and respects their humanity enough to refuse a pornographic clarity when they’re beaten, or worse. As always in the director’s films, women are wise, forceful presences, far too often victims of men’s headstrong impulsiveness.

Performances are mesmeric, even the smaller roles, and Sissako’s unfailing sense of color, contrasting with the pale desert landscape, holds the eye without distracting from the story. D.p. Sofiane El Fani creates stately compositions quite removed from the neorealism of frequent collaborator Abdellatif Kechiche, and the music, with its combination of traditional Malian melodies and more Western orchestral accompaniment, is beautifully suited to the images.



Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.