Movie News & Reviews

In ‘The Boy Next Door,’ J.Lo aims low: 2 stars

A teacher (Jennifer Lopez) should not have had a fling with the new neighbor (Ryan Guzman).
A teacher (Jennifer Lopez) should not have had a fling with the new neighbor (Ryan Guzman). Universal Pictures

Noah (Ryan Guzman) just moved to town to assist an invalid relative. The 20-year-old charmer flashes awesome pecs and a James Franco smile.

But perhaps it’s the ominous music that always accompanies him or the continual claims that “You can trust me” — whatever the case, his neighbor Claire (Jennifer Lopez) should not trust him.

Still, she can’t help notice his rippling sexuality as he sweatily removes an alternator while attentively fixing her car. Soon he’s finding more direct ways to charge her battery.

That’s the setup for “The Boy Next Door,” a shopworn thriller that succeeds on a rudimentary level. Based on the gender swap of its central idea, it might as well be titled “Attraction Fatal.”

Claire is trying to piece together her life after separating from her longtime husband (John Corbett) and raising teenage son Kevin (Ian Nelson), who attends the same high school where she teaches literature. Like last year’s “Labor Day,” the film concerns a shady handyman who invades a single mom’s comfy life. In that romantic drama, everyone grew from the relationship. Here, disaster strikes quickly.

Too quickly. Guzman (an MMA fighter-turned-actor best known for the “Step Up” dance flicks) flips from friendly neighbor to monologuing psycho in the span of a few minutes.

Maybe the film (penned by newcomer Barbara Curry) should have shown him as amusingly doting rather than instantly smothering. Subtly hint at his manipulative nature instead of dealing with a school bully by immediately beating the punk senseless. Even boiling a rabbit seems tame compared to the decisions this guy makes by the midway point of the movie.

Thus, the best moments come early. Claire realizes Noah is “off” before everyone else does. So when Kevin offers Noah a dessert, it’s rather hilarious that he responds, “I love your mother’s cookies,” aiming a knowing glance at Claire.

In another scene, director Rob Cohen (“Alex Cross”) heightens the tension by filming from an angle where we can see Noah blackmailing Claire in the kitchen while her husband and son sit unaware in the living room.

Superstar Lopez is clearly an expert at being the center of attention. That serves her well in this potboiler, as the gorgeous 45-year-old is rarely offscreen. Her performance isn’t dazzling but it’s credible, primarily because she seems to be living in the moment. Unlike the audience, her bookish character doesn’t grasp until it’s too late that this regrettable fling with a student isn’t going to be erased as easily as the menacing phrases he scrawls on her classroom blackboard.

‘THE BOY NEXT DOOR’

Rated R | Time: 1:31

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