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The Girl Next Door

  Girl Next Door
"My Dad's the lead agent for a counter-terrorism unit and my Mom was murdered by his former mistress. What do your parents do?"

© 2004, Fox
All Rights Reserved

Matthew (Emile Hirsch, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") is a studious senior in high school, president of his class, and ready for college. Moving in next door to Matthew is Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert, "Old School"), a knockout who takes a liking to her new neighbor's awkward charms and naivete. When the two start seeing each other romantically, Matthew's friends reveal the horrifying truth: Danielle is a popular porn star who is considering leaving the business. Matthew's life is turned upside down with this revelation, and he throws his promising future to the wind in an attempt to convince Danielle to leave the porn industry behind. Unfortunately, a sleazy porn producer named Kelly (Timothy Olyphant, "Scream 2") has other ideas. He sees Danielle as his property, and uses intimidation and violence to make sure Matthew stays out of her life forever.

Oh, what a setup this film has. It's been a long time since there's been a more perfect opportunity to capture teen male hormones and horndog sexuality in action than "Girl Next Door" (IMDb listing). A film like this would seem like a no-brainer: toss in porn, teens, slapstick and some occasional sweetness, then kick back and watch the results. But "Girl" is not that simple. This is a convoluted, poorly written, soggy piece of filmmaking that only occasionally sees the heights it should be scaling so easily. The potential is there in spades, but much like the teenage leads in the film when confronted with sex, the filmmakers fumble the possibilities, not appreciating what they've got with this idea.

Director Luke Greenfield ("The Animal") is given the keys to the classic sex comedy kingdom with "Girl," but the filmmaker gets too caught up in the story to care about the pace. Greenfield excels at constructing a high school world for Matthew that shies away from separating the class into rigid stereotypes. I was also impressed with the way Greenfield convincingly arranged the attraction between Matthew and Danielle, layering on the sweet with an uncommon grace not found in this type of cinema, and giving the audience a peek into why Danielle is so touched by Matthew's attentions. The comedy comes quickly and the story rolls forward, and for a good 45 minutes, I was thrilled that Greenfield found the right tone for this picture, and wasn't spending his time on needless and wheezy formula.

My greater fears were realized with the introduction of Kelly, played with conventional malice by Timothy Olyphant, who arrives to take focus away from the title character. Kelly is a creation that screenwriting teachers and studio heads refer to as "the lead's emotional growth," and he exists simply to get Matthew from A to B, not to add any kind of texture to the film. There's enough tension in Danielle and Matthew's relationship with school, parents, friends and the future to fill the picture's obscenely stretched out 105 minutes. The film eventually tumbles wildly with an aside to another porn producer (James Remar) and a tedious trip to an adult film expo. It concludes with a dreadfully overcooked and unbelievable (even by this film's standards) climax thath ties things up with the largest bow a movie can conceivably have. What "Girl" needed was concentration and less supporting characters, not pointlessly drawn out subplots that distract from the core idea of the film: a porn star is your neighbor, and she's into you. Yowza.

As the titular character, Elisha Cuthbert fits the part rather accurately. Besides possessing a beauty that would make men renounce their religion, Cuthbert is sweet and occasionally touching in the role. Greenfield doesn't quite feel the same way, and he places Cuthbert in the frame only to get her into revealing outfits, not to develop her character. Not much is known about Danielle, which is a shame when, ya know, the film is about her. Cuthbert takes her chance to enter the official "Phoebe Cates Adolescent Male Fantasy Hall of Fame" very seriously, which hasn't been attempted in years. But "Girl" suffers for keeping Danielle away from a thorough exploration, or at the very least, a personality outside of immaculate hair and makeup. Greenfield had the tools to create something special, if not entirely respectable. But he's a slave to the awful script, and takes the potential of "Girl Next Door" down with his sinking vision for the film.

Filmfodder Grade: C








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