lakeview_terrace_web.jpgThe writers of Lakeview Terrace took the idea of race relations in this country and turned it on its head.

In the movie, which ranked No. 1 at the box office last weekend, Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is a Republican, straight-laced cop/widower/father of two.  He’s an LAPD cop who worked and toiled for 28 years, and lives in a luxurious home in the upper middle class, southwestern California neighborhood called Lakeview Terrace

Just when Abel thinks he’s got his controlling hand on the pulse of the neighborhood, Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington) move in. Suffice it to say that Abel has a hefty problem with their interracial relationship.

“I think what’s cool about the film,” Washington told me in a telephone interview, “is the fact that it’s about so many different things.” 

According to Washington, Lakeview Terrace encompasses themes of class, race, identity, truth and relationships.  That’s pretty heavy for a film that’s only an hour and 46 minutes long.  But, essentially, that is what Lakeview Terrace is about. 

Here is this middle-class couple, just starting out, who have had the misfortune of moving next to a man who’s so anal retentive, he can’t walk straight.  The thought of Chris and Lisa even being together in their backyard pool makes Abel sick to his stomach, and he has no qualms in letting them know that.

“It’s a jumping off place for a lot of important dialogue,” Washington said.

At the heart of this film is an important question: What do you do when the person who is sworn to protect you is the person who’s harassing you?  There is no answer given at the end of the film, but the point is to generate dialogue.  In that essence, screenwriters David Loughery and Howard Korder have written a great script. 

But they also included items in the film that neither made sense, nor had a purpose.  For instance, throughout the film, a raging brush fire in southwest California is sweeping the cities.  At first, it just seems like background noise, but as the film progresses, Loughery and Korder bring the raging to the front, then don’t do too much else with it. 

Director Neil Labute’s decision to allow certain things to end up on the editor’s cutting room floor was ill advised. There are answers he should have kept in the movie.  Like what happened to Abel’s two children?  Did Chris and Lisa’s house catch on fire?  What became of the man who brings up the police-brutality lawsuit against Abel?  Why did Loughery and Korder opt to have a raging fire as a subplot; which did not propel the story far enough? 

According to Washington: “It’s a psychological thriller and I think those are films that excite people and that people gravitate toward.”

I agree.  Lakeview Terrace is something different and exciting.  Even though he has obvious holes in his film, Labute is effective at making the audience sympathize with, then hate Jackson’s character; a weird turn for this otherwise likable actor. Abel’s exterior life seems to be totally put together, but is actually completely unraveled on the inside. 

Washington’s portrayal of what she calls a “Berkeley graduate, Birkenstock wearing, granola woman” is believable, but a little over thought.  Washington said she had a lot of fun portraying Lisa, but I suspect she might have put a little too much passion into her portrayal. 

Other actors of note are Jay Hernandez as Abel’s partner and good cop.  Wilson’s portrayal is a little schizophrenic, but the character calls for some heightened paranoia. Chris, whose circumstances seem to get heaped on top of his head, is able to rise above everything; which is usually the case for the white protagonist.  And Ron Glass, who plays Lisa’s dad, is excellent as the film’s sounding board, saying exactly what the audience is thinking.

The film, co-produced by Will Smith, is a starting point for seeing something that isn’t a part of the norm and speaks to all audiences.

“I just think there’s so many interesting things to talk about when you walk out of the theater,” said
Washington, who will soon be appearing in Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna.  “Things that we don’t talk about in an honest enough way in this country.” 

If there ever was a time, the time is now.

Photo: Actress Kerry Washington, left, and actor Patrick Wilson, right, star in Lakeview Terrace.