- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2004

“The Girl Next Door” is an “American Pie”-style sex romp set around the adult film industry. No, it’s a raw coming of age yarn, a la “Risky Business,” but with pornography replacing prostitution as the sin in question.

That’s not quite right, either.

“The Girl Next Door” is what happens when a studio can’t decide on what direction its film should take and decides to take them all.

What makes “Next Door” all the more exasperating is how it sporadically excels at the first two genres. Fledgling filmmaker Luke Greenfield (2001’s “The Animal”) corrals some big laughs whenever the thematic terrain isn’t shifting under his feet. Mr. Greenfield’s ability to tap into adolescent angst is showcased in some gloriously honest set pieces.

However, by the time “Girl” reaches its clumsy denouement, whatever affection we’d been feeling for the leads has been stripped away by the film’s moral turpitude.

At first blush, “The Girl Next Door” is the next step in the mainstreaming of pornography.

Young Matthew (“The Emperor Club’s” Emile Hirsch) is the kind of student penalized socially for being bright, attentive and morally upright. He doesn’t date the cheerleaders like the school knuckle-draggers. He plays video games with his pasty pals.

Isn’t life unfair?

Salvation is nearly at hand — he just got accepted to Georgetown University — when he catches new next-door neighbor Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) undressing in a fashion that only happens in the movies.

It’s lust at first sight, and Danielle takes advantage of his hormonally altered state by forcing him into one humiliating experience after another.

We know Matthew needs to loosen up, but her exploits threaten his scholarship dreams and she doesn’t seem to care a whit.

No matter. Despite Miss Cuthbert’s enviable looks, there’s little she can do to make Danielle anything but a fantasy figure, as plastic as a blow-up doll.

Their relationship slowly builds until Matthew’s pals show him a pornographic movie starring a darker-haired Danielle.

He’s crushed at first, but then determined to save her from her sordid past. That won’t be easy, what with her ex-beau and porn producer Kelly (Timothy Olyphant, proving the electricity he brings to HBO’s “Deadwood” is no fluke) re-entering her life.

“The Girl Next Door” nails Matthew’s social isolation with such ease that it’s a shame the film feels the need to tack on so many final reel twists.

And what incredible twists they are, along with some of the worst moral lessons a mainstream movie can peddle. It’s not enough that the adult film industry is painted in candy-coated colors, but the film’s pragmatic streak is both ineffectual and ugly.

It wouldn’t be hard to give “The Girl Next Door’s” uncertain life lessons a pass. Who needs moralizing in an adolescent comedy? But the “American Pie” series held a sweetness at its core that balanced the prurient gags. Here, once the ruby red lipstick is wiped away, the only thing left is a film that doesn’t respect either of its stars. The viewer is left feeling exploited, perhaps the closest tie “The Girl Next Door” has with the actual porn industry.


WHAT: “The Girl Next Door”

RATING: R (Strong sexual content, harsh language and some drug references)

CREDITS: Directed by Luke Greenfield. Produced by Charles Gordon, Harry Gittes, Marc Sternberg. Written by Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner, Brent Goldberg.

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thegirlnextdoormovie.com




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