Lakeview Terrace

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Opens: Friday, Sept. 19 (Screen Gems). 

SAN FRANCISCO -- In director Neil LaBute's neighbor-from-hell bender "Lakeview Terrace," Samuel L. Jackson, playing a renegade LAPD cop and unrepentant racist, runs amok and takes the neighborhood -- and the movie -- down with him.

That it's a black actor cast as the virulent bigot, with the object of his campaign of harassment the young interracial couple who move in next door, could be viewed as a novel twist. But the film, absent a sense of place and populated by repellent or weak characters, soon devolves into an increasingly foul litany of events, culminating in a hail of gunfire and suicide by cop.

No one ventures into a LaBute film anticipating a good time, making boxoffice prospects slim at best and a better afterlife on DVD probable.

Chris (a bland Patrick Wilson) and Lisa's (Kerry Washington) move into a house on a peaceful suburban street turns into a war after they encounter Abel Turner (Jackson), the aggressive, self-appointed sheriff of the block. He escalates intimidation tactics to drive them out and almost gets away with it. After all, he is the law.

Watching the situation unravel, one realizes that civilization hangs by a thread. Perhaps LaBute had something substantial in mind, but "Lakeview" rapidly descends into caricature. With an evil gleam in his eye and flashing a wicked smile, the deranged Turner all but licks his chops before he goes off the rails.

Originally a playwright, LaBute, working from a script by David Loughery and Howard Korder, doesn't have a grip on how to move the camera. He's aiming for heightened emotional realism, but with characters mostly marooned on airless, hollow sets, the result is contrived.

Jackson, convincing as a cop sitting on an inferno, is aided by Joel Plotch's editing and Rogier Stoffers' cinematography in the film's most involving scenes: Turner on the job in South Central, apprehending criminals with his brand of Wild West law enforcement.

Although LaBute has created memorably lacerating portraits of male cruelty and willful dominance, this one doesn't add up. A burst of lame psychology attempts to explain Turner's motivation, but like the smooth-talking bullies in LaBute's previous films, Turner, their spiritual descendant, does it because he can.

Production: Screen Gems, Overbrook Entertainment.

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington. Director: Neil LaBute. Screenwriters: David Loughery, Howard Korder. Executive producers: John Cameron, David Loughery, Jeffrey Graup. Producers: Will Smith, James Lassiter. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes. Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers. Production designer: Bruton Jones. Music: Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna. Costume designer: Lynette Meyer. Editor: Joel Plotch.

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