There’s a pretty big difference between a viable guilty pleasure and a laughable failure yet The Boy Next Door manages to tap into both. Clocking in at a swift 90 minutes, the film is a harmless breeze, but director Rob Cohen certainly misses out on one heck of an opportunity to embrace the absurdity of the situation, go a little crazy and deliver a sleazy thriller that’d make for a decent at-home rainy day watch.
Jennifer Lopez leads as Claire Peterson. Minus her husband’s infidelity and her son getting bullied at school every once in a while, life is okay. But then Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) moves into the home next door. He’s significantly younger than Claire, and still in high school for that matter, but after a bad date and one too many glasses of red, she can’t resist any longer. She caves, sleeps with him, immediately regrets the decision and Noah doesn’t appreciate it. Determined to continue the relationship, Noah wedges his way further into Claire’s life, befriending her son, ambushing one of her classes and threatening to destroy everything and everyone she loves unless she’ll be with him.
Cohen wastes no time establishing an unintentionally laughable tone. The Boy Next Door kicks off with an over-the-top flashback detailing Garrett Peterson’s (John Corbett) affair in a manner that has Lifetime movie written all over it. Odds are, the filmmakers were gunning for an authentic opening that would establish an instant connection between Claire and the audience, but all it really does is say, “Get ready for some absurd melodrama.”
Whereas Guzman is busy hamming it up to the max and earning some honest laughs, Lopez is determined to make Enough 2. Good for her that she cares to try that hard, but all the effort in the world won’t get such a bland, boring character very far. The only reason Claire is mildly interesting is because she’s played by Jennifer Lopez. She cooks dinner, teaches high school English and has civil conversations about getting back together with her cheating husband. You’d think the situation with Noah would spice things up a bit for the character, but Claire’s got such a passive reaction to everything that he does that there’s really no spark to her at all until the third act blowout.
Guzman, on the other hand, is absolutely brimming with life from start to finish and seems to be one of the only cast members who actually gets what this movie is capable of achieving. As written, The Boy Next Door can’t be a truly unnerving domestic thriller. It’s too ridiculous. But, it can certainly function as a fun trashy thriller. Guzman does run into some trouble when he tries to take Noah to scary, hothead levels, but when he’s in charismatic, manipulative mode, he absolutely nails wonderfully ridiculous lines of dialogue like, “I love your mother’s cookies,” and, “I’m busy with physical education. I believe you’re familiar with that subject.”
Kristin Chenoweth is on the right track as well. She steps in as Vicky, the school vice principal and Claire’s good friend. She’s the character who states the obvious, something this movie desperately needs, and she’s also one of few to make sensible decisions. In fact, she’s got one scene with Guzman that features the most captivating and honest conversation of the entire thing, but, ultimately, it amounts to nothing because The Boy Next Door isn’t a very smart film.
One of the first glaring issues is that Noah flat-out announces that he’s almost 20-years-old. Sure, there’s still a significant age gap between him and Claire, but what’s the big deal? One, the fact that her husband was already caught cheating on her makes it feel like a slightly lesser offense, two, she wouldn’t go to jail for what she’s done and, three, the kid is a serious threat. Going to the authorities for help and losing your job at school seems like a worthy trade. The details of Noah’s backstory don’t quite add up either. The movie does attempt to give a reason for his behavior, but the information is shoehorned in through a mix of sloppy exposition and flashbacks, and none of it sticks. There’s one particularly tense scene between Noah and Claire’s son Kevin (Ian Nelson) that, for a quick second, makes you wonder if there’s just a little good in Noah, but rather than play with that, the movie sticks to the one-note depiction of the character as a hot guy with a serious mean streak.
There’s also a number of technical flaws in the film as well. The large majority of the camera moves are totally unmotivated, some are just flat-out ugly and dizzying, and Cohen manages to shoot Lopez and Guzman’s big sex scene in the least appealing manner possible. The movie’s got a solid soundtrack, but the score is as heavy-handed as they come. As if the movie isn’t predictable enough, the score always has to chime in to announce that Noah’s about to do something evil.
The Boy Next Door isn’t a good movie and there’s absolutely no way Cohen and his team could have turned it into one with that script, but they could have made something out of it by putting a little creativity into it. There’s certainly some fun to be had with Guzman’s performance, but otherwise, The Boy Next Door is a pretty uninspired, straightforward approach to a bland, trite scenario.