“The Boy Next Door” Review

Directed by The Fast and the Furious helmer Rob Cohen, The Boy Next Door is the romance-thriller starring Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Guzman. Lopez’s character, Claire Peterson, is a high school teacher who has an affair with Noah Sandborn (Guzman), a 19-year-old high school student played by a 27-year-old actor who looks like he’s a 35-year-old underwear model. After this affair, Sandborn grows dangerous, stalking and harassing Peterson and endangering her reputation. That said, after Gigli, I’m not sure Lopez’s reputation could be damaged much more.

There’s three movies going on in The Boy Next Door. For the first overly-long act of the film, the movie is a romantic dramedy between Lopez & Guzman. Then, after one steamy and uncomfortable night, the film abruptly shifts into a pseudo thriller as Noah Sandborn is suddenly transformed from the ideal man into a manipulative creep. Then, Noah’s character is rewritten once again as he becomes a serial killer for the horror section of the film.

In the romantic portion of the film, the tone is too dark for you to buy into any of the chemistry between Guzman and Lopez, but everything going on is far too stupid for any sense of tension to be built. Claire Peterson is a classics teacher who evidently only teaches The Iliad, because that’s the only book that’s ever brought up – and it’s not even brought up to enforce a theme, it’s just kind of mentioned and quoted for the sake of sounding smart. During one scene, Noah Sandborn gives Claire Peterson a gift: A slightly old-looking copy of The Iliad. Peterson remarks, “This is a first edition!” Noah agrees with her and says that he found it for a buck at a garage sale. Now, for obvious reasons, this is ridiculously stupid and kind of funny if you’re with the right crowd of people, but I also believe it sums up the first part of this movie perfectly. The content of the scene is mind-numbingly stupid, while the characters are acting shy and affectionate towards each other, and the scene is shot in such a way where it looks like one of the characters is about to pull out a knife and stab a deer and eat the brains. This lack of a coherent vision for the film leaves the audience feeling confused and uncomfortable.

Given that the whole opening to the film is dimly lit and somewhat ominous, you would think that Noah’s transition into being a sociopath would be relatively smooth. However, while the end result is completely predictable, the change in character seems incredibly forced. Because all of the technical aspects of the film stay relatively constant, Noah turning bad just seems like poor writing, rather than a shift in the tone of the film. The thriller portion of the film as a whole is generally just too repetitive and boring. The film takes a daring idea and somehow makes it seem bland. The fact that Noah is over the age of consent and is the one seducing Peterson (though Peterson initially doesn’t consent, which immediately makes the rest of the scene hard to watch) makes all of the presented consequences seem somewhat trivial. These sequences of the film are essentially just a bunch of threats that don’t seem nearly as threatening as the movie wants you to believe they are.

The final movie that The Boy Next Door attempts to disguise itself as is a horror film. Taken on its own, this portion of the film isn’t that bad. It’s not exactly good, but there are a couple somewhat effective moments. The final ten minutes of the film, while not terribly well executed, have some legitimate consequences that allowed me to actually feel something for the characters. Ryan Guzman’s performance in these final minutes is also significantly more inspired than the rest of the film (though his transformation into his role as a murderer once again appears to be an example of bad writing). However, the transition from light thrills to torture scares isn’t even remotely justified, and this final sequence just doesn’t work in the context of the rest of the film.

I don’t think that anyone was truly expecting this movie to be good, but I wouldn’t say it’s even worth a ‘guilty-pleasure’ viewing. I suppose it would be some fun to watch with a group of friends if you were all making fun of it though. The story is far from complex and there are plenty of incomprehensibly dumb moments to laugh at, so it’s an ideal target for your biweekly “Bad Movie Night”. Other than in a context like that though, I don’t see how I could recommend this trash. 2/10.

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