Movie review by Greg Carlson
A rip-off of “Risky Business,” one of teensploitation’s benchmarks, Luke Greenfield’s “The Girl Next Door” is a numb, queasy disaster. A comedy without any jokes, the film limps along interminably without ever disclosing anything interesting about the mannequins that are meant to be its primary characters. While the premise – high-school goody two-shoes falls for ex-porn actress house-sitting next door – has the makings of an interesting tale (imagine what Leos Carax, Francois Ozon, or heck, even Michel Gondry might have been able to do with it) nothing in the movie offers even the tiniest glimmer of intellect or emotion.
Pleasantly elfin Emile Hirsch plays the overachieving Matthew Kidman, a sexually frustrated (is there any other kind in movieland?) rule-follower with designs on both a major Georgetown scholarship and a future as a politician. Matt’s wildest fantasy appears to bear fruit when he window-peeps sexy Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) undressing, and she catches him in the act. Danielle promptly rings Matt’s doorbell, introduces herself to his folks, and the next thing you know, she and Matt are cruising around in her adorable Volkswagen Beetle convertible. Because “The Girl Next Door” is supposed to be a teen-comedy, Danielle talks Matt into taking off his clothes and running through the neighborhood in his birthday suit. This was comical when Will Ferrell did it in “Old School.” It is not so funny this time.
Danielle and Matt begin an improbable courtship, and director Greenfield botches and mishandles nearly all of the expository scenes. Introducing the motif that Matt is prone to daydreaming and fantasizing, Greenfield fails to clearly distinguish between reality and fantasy – often leaving the audience wondering whether a particular event has taken place or has merely been imagined by Matt. This frustrating technique is compounded by the script’s essential deficiency: there is no good reason why Danielle would hook up with Matt so quickly (at one point, she rather weakly explains that she liked the way Matt looked at her). Rather than allow the two characters to share any meaningful dialogue, the movie is quite content to lob one pop-song-scored montage after another, perhaps assuming that maybe the target demographic won’t notice that Danielle and Matt don’t behave like real human beings.
Seemingly forever in search of a balance between titillating glimpses into the “glamorous” world of adult entertainment and a teenage male fantasy about rescuing a gorgeous starlet from her abusive past, “The Girl Next Door” has absolutely no idea what to do with its title character, and Cuthbert gets completely lost in the shuffle. One minute, she is a self-assured, been-around-the-block veteran who knows how to take charge of every situation. The next minute, she is an insecure victim of poor choices, essentially pimped by her “manager” (Timothy Olyphant, nearly reprising his role in “Go”). Sometimes, when the machinery of the plot is grinding toward some peak, she is entirely ignored.
“The Girl Next Door” is so inconsequential, it’s difficult to argue that it is even worthy of criticism. Still, the insensitive screenplay by Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner, and Brent Goldberg seems almost delighted to flirt with racism (in an unfortunate and unnecessary subplot involving a fundraiser for a Cambodian math whiz), homophobia, and sexism. Utterly stupid, ugly, and dispensable, “The Girl Next Door” causes one to long for the wit, charm, and warmth of “Risky Business.” And as far as eroticism goes, “The Girl Next Door” does not begin to approach Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, and a nearly empty train car.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/12/04.