There is a scene in Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Boy Next Door where a bully, who has cleverly nicknamed poor Tommy (Adam Hicks) “The Wiz” after an unfortunate allergy-attack incident, teases the boy by telling him that the film The Wiz was on television the night before. He pauses before explaining that The Wiz is the black version of The Wizard of Oz. Yes, a bully, in the middle of tormenting his victim, actually explains the pop culture reference behind his insult. It is one of the many, many laugh-out-loud, “what the hell?” moments in The Boy Next Door. The thriller is so utterly ridiculous, so over-the-top cheesy and trashy, so misinformed and poorly written that it is absolutely amazing. The Boy Next Door is not a good film, but it is the one of the best movies I have ever seen.
The basics are all in the trailer: Claire Peterson (Lopez) is an English teacher who sips wine, puts on glasses to read books by the window, and has a regrettable one-night stand with a 19-year-old transfer student at her school, Noah (Ryan Guzman, a blandly attractive mix of James Franco and porn star James Deen, who also seems like he’s trying to channel some of Channing Tatum’s charm). When she informs him that it was a mistake and can never happen again, Noah promptly loses his mind and transforms into a total psychopath. Everything happens so quickly, so unbelievably.
Claire is separated from her husband (John Corbett, content to just hang out on set and drink some beers) because he cheated on her. Her moment of weakness comes after a few glasses of wine, a plea from Noah to help him cook chicken (dumb teenage boys are always screwing up when they try to microwave chicken!), and some preteen fan-fiction shots of Noah’s abs. Claire has already lusted after him from afar — watching him change from her bedroom window, which looks directly into his room for plot purposes — and she is attracted to the way that he can quote poetry and his interest in Classics. “You gotta read The Iliad,” he earnestly tells Tommy with the enthusiasm of an adolescent boy discovering an old issue of Playboy. To contrast, there is a scene when Claire goes on a bad date with a man who does not believe that Classic literature is important, and I doubt Claire changes his mind when she retorts that J.K. Rowling, a billionaire, was a Classics major — though, bless her soul, Lopez hisses the line with such emphasis that you’d think she actually believed this moment would end up on her Oscar reel.
Lopez (who I will always love, no matter how many bad movies she makes) and Guzman (mostly known for a few Step Up movies and Pretty Little Liars) are both trying their very best. Guzman nails all of his one-liners — though perhaps even he isn’t sure if he’s supposed to be going for laughs or not. And it’s always refreshing to see a movie that attempts to feature a “strong” woman (Claire isn’t exactly smart half the time, but it’s the thought that counts), not to mention two Latino leads. It’s just a bummer that this is the movie those elements came together to make.
Noah is a stupendously underwritten antagonist. He is only characterized by three things: his sudden rage, the strange denim-shirt-and-tie combo that he wears to school every day (yet we are still to believe he’s a badass), and the fact that he is skilled at everything (kickboxing, shooting guns, hacking, memorizing classic books, fixing garages and cars, using a printer, seducing older women, and manipulating his peers). Aside from the vague mother issues that plague all antagonists like Noah, the movie never attempts to explain why he is the way he is. But, in a way, no explanation is even necessary.
The Boy Next Door is not about explanations. It does not care to ask questions or provide answers. It does not concern itself with following up on plot points that are haphazardly thrown in and abandoned. It doesn’t have to, because it is so beautifully trashy and off-the-wall that you won’t care whether it makes sense.
And there is so much that doesn’t seem to make sense, though I suppose it’s possible I was laughing so hard at some moments that I missed a few explanations. Why does Noah fly off the handle so quickly? Why doesn’t Claire just get help in the first place? At one point, did her son have an allergy attack from boxing? Did he punch a bee? What was the point of the video plot, or the cheating girlfriend plot, or the expulsion plot? How can you give someone a first edition of The Iliad? What is with everyone’s obsessions with cookies? Didn’t Jennifer Lopez learn any self-defense from Enough? By the time we get to the “thrilling” finale — it’s a violent but predictable ending, if you happened to note the Oedipus Rex quote written on the chalkboard earlier; this movie was apparently written by a high school freshman — there are far more questions than answers, but you’ve missed everything that’s great about this movie if you still care about that by then.
The disappointment of the ending has less to do with the movie being terrible than with the movie being so much fun to watch, right up to the moment it’s over. At no point during The Boy Next Door was I bored. It’s the trashy thriller that you watch On Demand after a few beers, but I recommend seeing it in the theater with friends, so you can giggle your way through it together. It’s hard to make a good movie, but it might be harder to make a movie that is this entertaining in its badness.