All bad movies should have the decency to be as entertaining as The Boy Next Door, a boilerplate, preposterous thriller about a single mother (Jennifer Lopez) stalked by the psychotic hunk who moves into her neighborhood. Written by Barbara Curry (this is her first screenplay) and directed by Rob Cohen (Stealth, The Skulls, Alex Cross), the film is so gleefully ridiculous that you start to suspect the filmmakers were in on the joke and forgot to tell the actors.
Lopez, who seems to be fond of playing women who are victimized by bad husbands or boyfriends (Enough, El Cantante, U Turn), is all business as Claire, a schoolteacher separated from her cheating husband (John Corbett) and raising their teenage son (Ian Nelson) by herself. Then Noah (Ryan Guzman), a 19-year-old with an underwear model’s physique and an allergy to shirt sleeves, moves in next door to look after his ailing great-uncle.
Within minutes of meeting, the likable Noah is already fixing Claire’s garage door, which pleases her greatly, because everyone knows women are completely helpless when it comes to simple repairs around the house. Or maybe Claire didn’t want to mess up her makeup and hair, since she always looks like she’s heading out to attend the Oscars even when she’s puttering around the house grading her students’ homework.
Immediately, there are red flags all over the place, such as the vague way in which Noah refers to an “accident” as the reason why he moved to a new home and then quickly changes the subject, or the fact that he’s 19 years old and can quote Homer by heart but still hasn’t graduated from high school. Even Claire’s best friend (Kristin Chenoweth) immediately notices there’s something strange about the kid (“I can’t put my finger on it,” she says ominously). But Claire ignores all the warning signs and becomes a Peeping Mom, looking in on Noah’s bedroom from her window as the young man undresses before bed, or rushing over to his house when he calls and asks her to help him cook a chicken. No, seriously.
One brief but surprisingly explicit sex scene later, Claire is racked with guilt, and Noah is completely smitten. The movie excuses Claire’s cougar-like behavior by showing us she was a bit tipsy the night of the tryst — don’t judge her, it was the wine! — but after Noah has had a taste, he starts to crave more. When Claire rebuffs him, the lunatic decides to terrorize and stalk her.
The Boy Next Door occasionally doles out a memorable line that implies the movie is not meant to be taken all that seriously (“I love your mother’s cookies,” Noah tells Claire’s son, creating an instant meme). But other exchanges are unintentionally hilarious, not quite on the level of Showgirls but in the same general ballpark (“Go eff yourself!” Claire shouts at Noah. “Maybe I should eff you first!” Noah shoots back). Guzman, a handsome actor who is not entirely without talent, plays Noah as an evil mastermind with six-pack abs who can anticipate other people’s moves, and it’s fun to watch him insinuate himself into Claire’s life, even though his actions defy all credibility.
There isn’t anything here you haven’t seen a million times before, including that old but reliable jump scare of a cat suddenly jumping into the frame, meowing loudly. But Cohen’s elegant direction helps the cliches go down smoothly, and the way his camera ogles Guzman’s body is an intentional reversal of the way most directors ogle their female stars. Best of all is the cracked, delirious finale, which takes place inside a burning barn, because why not? Although the film doesn’t contain much violence, an unexpected bit of horrific, Game of Thrones-worthy gore made a preview audience explode into laughs and cheers. The Boy Next Door is a factory-line thriller, the sort of modestly budgeted, unchallenging picture Hollywood cranks out to feed the multiplex machine during the doldrums of January. But whatever charges you can level at the movie, and they are legion, boring isn’t one of them.
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, John Corbett, Ian Nelson.
Director: Rob Cohen.
Screenwriter: Barbara Curry.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 91 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, graphic gore, violence, adult themes, unintentional hilarity. Playing at area theaters.