“Gigli” exists. Therefore no other Jennifer Lopez movie can be the worst Jennifer Lopez movie ever made. The silly, clichéd, visually irritating “The Boy Next Door” gives it the ol’ high school try, anyhow.
“Boy” pairs high school student Noah (former Sacramentan Ryan Guzman) with Lopez’s teacher character, Claire. Then the movie fails to commit to its own sordid premise. Noah is 19 and thus legal – he “lost some years,” he says, because of a mysterious family event – and does not enroll in Claire’s advance-placement Classics course until after Claire has had sex with him, once, before ending things.
Still skeevy, I know. But the titillate-and-retreat hedging speaks to this film’s general lack of creative integrity. Barbara Curry’s script is a pastiche of hoary erotic-thriller setups, starting with Claire sneaking looks from her Craftsman’s window outside, to where the ripped Noah, who has come to live with his great-uncle next door, performs chores.
As she watches sweat glisten on Noah’s biceps, Claire looks as if she does not know whether to swoon or make lemonade. It’s not long before Claire, who is separated from her unfaithful husband (John Corbett), seeks some sugar from the neighbor.
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Lopez, 45, and Guzman, who is 27 and looks it, are top-1-percentile attractive. So it makes sense that they look good together on screen. But the eroticism of their sex scene is hampered by A) it being wildly inappropriate; B) the eventual reveal that Claire does not teach Classics for nothing, since Noah’s thing for her is Oedipal; and C) Guzman’s hands covering Lopez’s bare breasts in a manner that is less about passion than exposure prevention.
Lopez’s always-spotty film career takes a Letourneau for the worse here. The camera loves her, as always, but she never has sounded as whiny as she does in “Boy.” Nails on a chalkboard come to mind, though I’m pretty sure Claire uses a dry-erase board in class.
Mostly required to look distraught while her hair remains perfectly fluffed, Lopez, while never being good, is awful only once. The moment involves a telephone and some startling news. Lopez plays it so badly that it’s hard to believe director Rob Cohen chose this take.
Kristin Chenoweth plays Claire’s tell-it-like-it-is, girl-here’s-what-you-need-to-do-about-your-cheating-husband best friend, who dresses too youthfully and casually for her job as high school vice principal. Chenoweth likely was cast partly for her own whine, to take some heat off Lopez’s.
Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) directs “Boy” as if he misses being on the road. Male characters who drive cars in “Boy” always peel out instead of simply driving away from their suburban homes. Most scenes in “Boy,” though, happen indoors, and that appears to make Cohen itchy. The movie’s camera work is shaky and its editing choppy. Shots are unnecessarily tight, as if the camera wants to assist characters in emoting.
Guzman and Ian Nelson – who plays Claire’s teenage son, Kevin – keep the audience with “Boy,” which is 91 minutes long but would be interminable were it not for these young actors. Though Guzman is too mature-looking to be a plausible teen, he is believable as an obsessive who thinks he’s in love with Claire from the moment she assents to their quickie.
When Claire, regretful after the tryst, calls things off, Noah punches a wall, right in front of her. Because in lousy thrillers, windows are for peeping and walls are for punching. Noah goes from zero to nutcase in seconds.
But Guzman’s performance remains consistent as Noah’s behavior grows erratic. Guzman’s eyes shine with desire and awe in Lopez’s presence even when his character is at his craziest. Guzman never convincingly portrays Noah’s supposedly deep well of rage. But he’s not-bad in a bad movie.
Nelson, who looks like a cross between McLovin’ from “Superbad” and Gregory Peck, is natural and real-teen-like as a shy boy who needs a friend. The one he finds, unfortunately, is Noah, who goes “My Bodyguard” on boys who bully Kevin. But Noah also bad-mouths Kevin’s dad, who is trying to reunite with Claire, to Kevin.
Corbett brings the same mellow vibe to “Boy” he brings to every role. In other words, he’s miscast. Corbett is not the guy who cheats. He’s the guy who gets cheated on. Has no one seen “Sex and the City”?
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.
THE BOY NEXT DOOR
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, John Corbett
Director: Rob Cohen
Rated R (violence, sexual content, nudity and language)