We see a man scrubbing out a modern sink that doesn't need scrubbing, and cleaning the glass of a mirror that doesn't need cleaning. He eats dinner with his wife and young son and nobody speaks. He and his house and neighborhood are scrupulously tidy. The residents cheerfully greet one another and say, "Neighbor." All the middle-class homes are very much alike -- without character, without soul. The husbands drive Beamers to work. The wives drive modern VW Beetles. The little community is nestled in a cul de sac in the peaceful and verbena-scented California hills. When a newly arrived resident makes too much noise at night, another gently reminds him, "Ahh, we have a rule around here. Silence after seven." I wouldn't live there for one hundred billion dollars.
That new neighbor is an interesting guy, Erique La Salle. He's tall, deep voiced, soft spoken, and black. His race is never mentioned but it ought to be because it becomes part of all the white men's fantasies about blacks being better sex partners than they themselves, and it's not long before the chief conspiracy theorist, Weber as an airline pilot, begins enlisting the others in spying on the black guy.
They buy sophisticated surveillance equipment to do it but nothing much comes of that technology. Mostly they creep up on La Salle's lawn after dark and listen through a basement window of frosted glass as a woman screams while being beaten, or another ululates her orgasm. La Salle, it turns out, is a psychiatrist -- first in his class at Harvard Medical School. In movies like this, you're nobody unless you're first in your class at Harvard. However, he's been stripped of his license to practice because he was using unorthodox methods. He has no wife or children, and he rarely goes out of his way to be friendly, except to Weber's young son.
It sounds engaging, doesn't it? It was written and directed by David Ogden. The problem is that it no sooner establishes an interesting introduction -- mysterious black man with shady past moves into immaculate white neighborhood and appears to be engaging in sexual acts in his basement, perhaps with some of the neighborhood wives -- than the structure begins to shiver and weave, as might one of those sterile frame houses with the welcome mat, during an earthquake. At the climax, the entire plot implodes and buries everyone in a debris heap full of plasterboard, vinyl and tattered reproductions of Mark Rothko, leaving nothing behind other than a mammoth cauliflower cloud of dust and a handful of puzzled coyotes.
It gets points for not being a slasher movie, mechanical thriller, or soap opera, and also for being willing to deal with such a colorless milieu. The performances are up to professional snuff too. "No problema," as these people might say.
But the plot is just plain silly, and it get some details wrong in the most obvious fashion. Here's the director's idea of shocking you, a sophisticated viewer, full of good taste and savoir faire. Weber, the pilot, appears to be going round the bend with his paranoid ideation. So he shaves his head. We know he's shaving his head because we see him doing it. Cut to Weber sitting in front of a mirror, his head wrapped in a towel. Slowly, deliberately, Weber unwraps his nude head, while you, the presumed dummy, gasp in anticipation and tingle all over. Then -- THE NAKED HEAD. On top of that, the director has Weber stare at an angle into the mirror, so that instead of looking at his own image he's clearly looking at the camera. I thought that imbecile trick had died years ago and am so sick of it that -- quick, hand me his razor, I'm going to cut my throat.
I don't want to go on with deconstructing this offal. But, okay, if you're newly arrived in a neighborhood, you're a shrink, you genuinely care about people, and are desperate to help those who need it, do you establish rapport by mowing your lawn with a tractor at two in the morning? If you have graduated from Harvard Medical School -- with or without a license to practice -- do you need to change your first name legally to "Doctor" in order to be addressed as "doctor"? No, you don't. Michael Creighton graduated from medical school and never practiced. In certain limited professional settings, like classrooms, I was addressed as "doctor" although I never had a license to do anything but drive a car. Well -- once a motorcycle.
If you were, say, a ten-year-old boy, would you open the family safe and examine its contents, including the loaded pistol, and then, finding some offensive documents, shoot the papers full of holes with real bullets? You see what I mean? And there's worse that I haven't even mentioned. You know, if you're just going to give up and throw credibility out the window, that's not necessarily bad. Edgar Allan Poe did it all the time. But if you wanted to save this movie from the vortex of the absurd, you could at least have shown some extensive footage of Kate Walsh making love to another lady. What the heck. If the horse is not quite dead, why stop flogging it?