Sunday, September 14, 2008

The House Next Door (2002)

Theresa Russell and James Russo welcome you to the neighborhood.

A young couple with perfect teeth and idyllic jobs (one is a children's book illustrator) move into a house next door to an abusive ex-Marine, Carl (James Russo, perfectly clad with flannel shirt and graying mustache) and his withering wife Helen (Theresa Russell). Carl's abusive tirades are capped off one night with a gunshot, leading the young wife next door to suspect the worst.

As an heir to Rear Window, it is short on thrills and jerkily paced (the extent of Carl's menace is thrust too quickly into the script). As a commentary on suburban U.S.A., it is uncertain and ineffective. Carl's patriotism, evidenced by his raising an American flag every morning and his big Fourth of July bash, is never integrated into his dialogue or motives. Most likely, this is a case of the filmmakers' insistence on creating a subtext no matter how vague it appears in the final product.

James Russo can be a little smothering at times.

As wobbly as the script is, it is performed by capable talent. Russo and Frederic Forrest (as the corrupt Sheriff) lend a good deal of credence and creepiness to their small town characters. Sean Young puts in a day's work as a big city slut, and gives the film a few, much needed laughs (Her best line trails off: " I just gave him this little handjob and he's thanking me profusely. It was really sweet.") Unfortunately, Theresa Russell's character disappears halfway into the movie. Her few scenes have an intense sadness. Constantly fidgeting and on the verge of tears, she genuinely seems to want to crawl out of her own skin.

Directed by Joey Travolta (who should probably go by Joseph when he directs a thriller).

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