The Girl Next Door

By Kevin Chen

April 9, 2004

Loosely based on Corey Haim and Corey Feldman's adventures with Ginger Lynn.

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Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a promising young high school senior who -- oh, who am I kidding? It's not like people who intend to see this movie actually care about movie elements like plotting or characterization.

Fortunately, the high school sex comedy genre recognizes this lack of focus in its target demographic, and thus serendipitously wastes little energy on them, directing its efforts more appropriately in the arenas of sex and comedy. Unfortunately, The Girl Next Door is ambitious yet unfocused, and its attempt to blend romance, opposites attract, carpe diem, and Risky Business yields something which isn't really sexy or comedic enough to satisfy those most likely to see it.

Back to the story (such as it is), perky blonde Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) is housesitting next door to the Kidmans. Matthew is immediately attracted to her, while she is charmed by his social innocence. Can their budding romance survive Danielle's deep, dark, pulsating secret -- that she is really a porn star? (I mean, "adult film actress")

Hirsch and Cuthbert are certainly comely enough leads -- which leads us to Overanalyzing Critic Fault #1, which is why a teenager who looks like a young Jason Bateman should be more of a social outcast than the local math geek (which leads us to Overanalyzing Critic Fault #2, which is how someone so apparently unpopular could be Student Council President) -- but the pace of the film pushes them together so quickly that they never really have an opportunity to develop a good onscreen chemistry. Although perhaps that's not really an issue, since soon thereafter, Matthew's porn-obsessed friend Eli (Chris Marquette) recognizes Danielle. Poor Matthew cannot handle the shock and awe, thereby throwing their budding relationship into jeopardy.

This point is driven home by Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), a figure from Danielle's other, darker life, whose devil-may-care attitude seems appealing to a Matthew just starting to emerge from his shell. Olyphant is fun to watch onscreen, but unfortunately, he's also one of the big problems in the film, as his role as protagonist steals the focus away from Danielle and Matthew, and sets the Risky Business 2004 remake into lurchy motion.

The biggest disappointment to this film's core audience, however, is its distinct lack of titillation, particularly for an R-rated comedy about porn stars. While the costuming department does a wonderful job of highlighting Elisha Cuthbert's cleavage, the only people likely to find anything exciting about the movie are those who are as callow as its protagonist. Purge all instances of the word "fuck" from the script (granted, there are many -- which leads us to Overanalyzing Critic Fault #3, which is that just peppering the script with "fuck" isn't necessarily funny unless Dennis Farina is in your cast), and this might have had a shot at a PG-13 rating.

The movie does have its funny moments but can't really sustain them, so even the occasional guffaw has too much time to digest before the next. Or perhaps I've just aged out of the target demographic. As another (funnier) movie put it, "I'm getting too old for this shit."



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