The Girl Next Door

(2004) ** 1/2 R
109 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Luke Greenfield. Cast: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, James Remar, Christopher Marquette.

The Girl Next Door is a seriously guilty pleasure aimed squarely at teen boys and sexual Peter Pans. As much a pandering fantasy as those teen-girl Cinderella flicks cramming multiplexes on a weekly basis, this spicy farce gives horndogs what they want: an average Joe high-schooler cozying up to a porn star. Luke Greenfield's pre-P.C., '80s-styled sex romp rivals American Pie in comedically tapping the modern male-teen zeitgeist, doing so with a refreshing—nay, miraculous—absence of gross-out humor.

Greenfield kicks things off with a raucous onslaught of a montage; to the tune of David Bowie's "Under Pressure," high-school seniors anticipate their fast-approaching senior prom and graduation ("This is the last dance..."). In particular, one Matthew Kidman (get it? he's on the cusp of manhood!) pines to make some memories while he still can, which makes him a sitting duck for a free-spirited neighbor girl and his carpe diem-touting best buddy.

As it turns out, the girl next door is Danielle, a young, shapely former porn star who makes it her improbable mission to loosen up the by-the-book Matthew. The high-achieving Matthew secretly wishes to join up with the teenage wasteland around him (noting the purveyors of the prevailing social ethic—profane, obnoxious, and irresponsible—Matthew longingly observes, "They just don't care"). By tossing out lines like "What's the craziest thing you've done lately?" and "Just go with it," Danielle soon has Matthew smiling, styling, and streaking through the suburbs. Greenfield—along with screenwriters Stuart Blumberg and David T. Wagner & Brent Goldberg—pulls one of the more amusing bait-and-switch daydreams in recent memory, but most of the hilarious moments come courtesy of Eli, the porn-aficionado/best friend who publicly (and unprintably) encourages Matthew to score with Danielle ("...for me!").

The second act flounders to introduce conflict, injecting Timothy Olyphant as a pimp-like porn producer who wants Danielle back and therefore takes umbrage with Matthew's prudish discouragements ("I know who you really are and you're better than this"). A detour to the Adult Film Convention in Las Vegas fails to give the characters anything clever or funny to do, but the third act recovers with a bit of divine nonsense: how many teen movies find their heroes dosed, then attacked by a parrot while sprinting away from a B&E job and clutching a gold-plated dildo? Not many, my friend. The climax, though unconvincingly staged, pleasingly subverts expectations with an eleventh-hour bid for sexual responsibility.

For each bold plot twist deftly maneuvered by Greenfield, expect two conventional pot shots (at the imported Cambodian math-whiz Samnang, for example, or the muscle-bound dimwits providing security at the convention). Still, Greenfield garners considerable goodwill by savvily casting the key roles. Though Danielle fails to gel into a real character, Elisha Cuthbert (TV's 24) gamely enlivens her sense of fun and puts some spitfire behind the empty-gesture lines by which she dresses Matthew down for trying to "save" her. Emile Hirsch, who played in a darker key in The Emperor's Club and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, makes a likeable, limber comedic lead, and Chris Marquette (TV's Joan of Arcadia) pretty much steals the show as Eli. Here's hoping that one or two of the teens who slip by the ushers for some raunchy, R-rated thrills also recognize the film's fetishization of fantasy women as pulp fiction and not actual carnal knowledge.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 9/1/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The low-end budget of The Girl Next Door no doubt accounts for its underwhelming visual punch on Blu-ray. A solid but uninspiring transfer handily bests its DVD counterpart, but still betrays grain that comes in on the heavy side—softening detail a bit—and inconsistent contrast. Though the color has a muted look, I suspect it's accurate, though the black level could stand to be deeper. You're less likely to notice any problems with the upgraded DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which gives a convincing boost to a not-particularly demanding soundtrack.

The Blu-ray presents the "Unrated" Cut of the film, along with all of the extras found on the corresponding DVD edition of the film. First up is a lively, prideful commentary by director Luke Greenfield, who demonstrates his savvy about the genre in which he was working and describes his process in getting the film to the screen.

The disc also includes scene-specific commentary by Emile Hirsch (8:47, SD) on four scenes and scene-specific commentary by Elisha Cuthbert (12:47, SD) on five scenes. These mini-commentaries are a nice, time-sensitive way to add value to a disc.

"The Eli Experience" (7:57, SD) finds Chris Marquette and Matt "Horshu" Wiese, in character, goofing around with unsuspecting patrons at an adult film convention.

"A Look Next Door" (9:59, SD) is a straightforward making-of featurette with Greenfield, Hirsch, screenwriter Stuart Blumberg, Cuthbert, producer Charles Gordon, producer Marc Sternberg, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, James Remar, executive producer Guy Riedel, and production designer Stephen Lineweaver.

You'll also find a "Gag Reel" (2:47, SD) and the theatrical trailer (2:25, SD), while sixteen "Deleted and Extended Scenes" (10:58, SD), including the original ending, come with optional director commentary.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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