Three enthusiastic thumbs up!

BY

The Girl Next Door was supposed to open on March 12. It did not, much to my consternation. I am a big fan of the immature sex comedy genre and this looked to be a solid addition to the canon. So when I saw an ad for a special sneak preview about three weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to go. I Fandangoed the tickets immediately (despite those stupid ads they run before movies) to make sure my friend – who wishes to remain securely anonymous out of embarrassment for having seen the movie – and I were in.

It turns out we needn’t have rushed. There were maybe a dozen people in the theater, not a good sign even at Fresh Pond. I was particularly disturbed by the 50-year old bearded guy sitting by himself in the back row, right under the projector. Clearly he had seen the same commercials I had, and clearly he was a dirty, dirty, dirty man. As yet another friend who wishes to remain anonymous said, “The guy was all set to give the film three thumbs up.”

After a few reasonable previews, the movie starts with an excessively long opening montage that leaves you knowing that our protagonist, Matthew, is an intelligent, politically ambitious high school student who has few friends and feels disconnected from his classmates and his community. HLS material if I ever saw it. Needless to say, Matthew has no luck with the ladies. He spends his time hanging around with his friends Eli, a porn addict, and Klitz, a loveable dork.

Pretty soon we’re introduced to the girl next door, Danielle. Anyone with a television knows that this character is played by Elisha Cuthbert – the entire marketing campaign for the film is something along the line of “Look, it’s Elisha Cuthbert. Look, she’s not wearing much. Here she is again. And there she is soaking wet.”

Cuthbert’s pretty good looking for a Canadian, but more importantly, she can act. Her character, like every other in the film, is written pretty two-dimensionally, but she manages to inject some humanity into the film and makes a pretty implausible relationship convincing enough to let the gullible suspend their disbelief.

Danielle is a porn actress looking to leave that life and settle down into something more normal and less icky. Her character straddles the virgin and whore archetypes, a tainted virgin seeking redemption who retains enough of the whore characteristics to keep teenage boys excited.

Two-thirds of the writing team also wrote the Van Wilder script, which gives a good indication of what to expect: a mix of hilarious, gross, and stupid. Like Van Wilder, The Girl Next Door walks a rocky road and does not always live up to the promise it occasionally displays.

The plot proceeds painfully predictably, with Danielle leading Matthew on a spree of crazy hijinks to loosen him up a little, then Matthew finding out her dark secret, fliping out, screwing things up, redeeming himself, and then working with Danielle on a crazy scheme that just might work. It’s a rehash of one of the classic teen sex comedy plotlines, and unfortunately while a few funny gags punctuate the movie too much time is spent just coasting on the tired formula. The movie gets a bit more creative at the end, with enough plot twists to draw the viewer back in for the big finish.

Timothy Olyphant provides the film’s funniest moments as Kelly, Danielle’s ex-boyfriend and porn producer. He’s charming and vicious and fun to watch (not that Cuthbert isn’t). While mediocre writing hinders him toward the end, Olyphant’s wolfish villain definitely gives the movie its biggest laughs.

That being said, the film has almost certainly been recut since I saw it. I believe it had been recut once before, probably to add some gratuitous nudity in light of Eurotrip’s success. The film definitely needed further work to help it cohere and flow. Aside from a few raunchy scenes, the movie comes off as decidedly PG-13. It’s a little schizophrenic, as if the project’s direction was radically changed halfway through. Hopefully some deft editing can pull the disparate elements together and make it a smoother film.

There were some decidedly awkward moments, especially what should have been the romantic climax of the film, which came off as creepy and uncomfortable. Eli’s disturbing fascination with pornography also came off too bizarre and weird to be funny. Much of the film is adequate; you get the feeling that a lot of people are doing their best to make an inconsistent script work. But Cuthbert, Olyphant, and the odd bit of clever writing keep things interesting enough to be bearable. If you like formulaic teen sex comedies, you should not hesitate to check out The Girl Next Door.

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