Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
Directed by: Neil LaBute (“The Shape of Things”)
Written by: David Lougher (“Money Train”) and Howard Korder (“The Passion of Ayn Rand”)

When you’re as sought after as an actor like Samuel L. Jackson (he has six feature films out in 2008), it’s only natural to spread yourself a bit thin. It’s unfortunate in “Lakeview Terrace” that Jackson, who could possibly be at his most diluted of the year, connects with a director on a steady decline.

Neil LaBute, who looked like he could be the next big filmmaker back in the late 90s with his dark comedies “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors,” seems to have slipped into a cinematic coma.  If 2006’s “Wicker Man” wasn’t enough evidence that LaBute had lost his way, “Lakeview Terrace” is a sad reminder that he is captain of a sinking ship.

In “Lakeview,” interracial husband and wife Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) Mattson move into a new neighborhood and are dumbfounded when they find out their next door neighbor, Abel Turner, an LAPD officer and overprotective father of two, lets them know that he doesn’t want them living there.

The script might have us believe that it’s not known whether Abel is turned off by an interracial couple living next door to him or if he just misses his deceased wife and can’t stand the idea of a happy couple making love in their swimming pool in plain sight. Either way, Abel is chock full of politically incorrect opinions that make his run ins with his new neighbors very awkward.

Soon, mere uncomfortable moments evolve into attempts by Abel to do anything he can (including using his influence as a cop) to get Chris and Lisa to pack up and leave. It starts off as annoyances with floodlights and sarcastic comments, but Abel has a nasty side and, with a badge protecting him, he’s not afraid to show it.

Where the screenplay lacks terribly is in rhyme and reason.  Are we supposed to believe that Abel is so inundated with hatred for his neighbors he can act out in these threatening manners? The motivation behind his actions is not as clear and Jackson’s character is left floating around with nothing more than a scowl on his disapproving face.

Screenwriters David Lougher and Howard Korder hint to us that Abel’s not actually a bigot. He has an Asian neighbor he talks to and a Hispanic LAPD partner (Jay Hernandez) that keeps him company on the streets. So, why does he lose his cool? Who knows, but the intensity of the neighborhood rivalry never reaches a boiling point like Ray Liotta did in 1992’s “Unlawful Entry,” which is basically the same story without the racist angle.

Here, LaBute plays it safe and turns racial tension into a sort of name calling-game on the playground. While we should loathe a character like Abel – or at least what he stands for – there’s nothing in the film’s arsenal to make us feel he’s anything more than a petty nuisance.

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