Director Neil LaBute and writers David Loughery and Howard Korder have a lot to say about race, sex and politics. But in Lakeview Terrace they're never quite successful at showing us exactly what it is they have to say, other than that some people still have trouble getting along with others of another race. Real hot button stuff, huh? In 2005 Paul Haggis tackled similar themes with his scorching Crash, but whereas that film built a brilliantly complex plot around the issues at hand, the makers of Lakeview Terrace take the easy way out in almost every aspect. The result... an anemic thriller that never digs deep enough to be significant, and isn't thrilling enough to entertain.

The film stars Samuel L. Jackson as Abel Turner, a stern L.A. cop, widower, and single dad whose stringent ways alienate him from his two kids. Adding to his level of stress, but only partly explaining his poor behavior, he's recently received a couple of dings against his record within the police department. And for a reason that is almost ludicrous once finally revealed, he doesn't much care for interracial marriage either.

Lakeview TerraceSo imagine Abel's irritation when a mixed-race couple moves in next door in the form of Chris (Patrick Wilson), a Prius-driving, tree-hugging Berkeley grad and Lisa (Kerry Washington), his African American artist wife. The complete opposites of everything Able stands for. Initially, Abel needles his new neighbors with juvenile pranks slashed tires, veiled epithets, a sabotaged air-conditioner unit but eventually ratchets up the hostility with increasingly violent antics.

The new couple has their own set of problems too. Chris is content with getting settled into their new surroundings before starting a family; Lisa wants to get pregnant now. And Chris has a hard time getting along with Lisa's patronizing dad. It's all enough to send Chris over the boiling point. Speaking of which, there's also the threat of encroaching wildfires that, while meant to be a cleverly disguised metaphor for the forthcoming slow burn, are as heavy handed as a broken air conditioner during a heat wave. If the obvious police were watching, there'd be an All Points Bulletin issued for everyone involved.

As the tensions escalate, so do the actions of the characters... but to the point of near silliness. Nothing seems real or natural anymore and by the time we discover the motives behind Abel's racism and ugliness, the whole thing has become completely unbelievable. Lakeview Terrace is supposed to be a clash of opposites enflamed by deep-seated stereotypes and hatred, but instead it comes off as some kind of vague statement about defending one's own turf and how far some people will go to protect it. Sure, we've all had the neighbor-from-hell, but the film's makers want us to sit uneasy due to uncomfortable situations and difficult subject matter... instead we squirm at their desperate attempts at audience manipulation.

With such directorial successes as In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty, Neil LaBute should know how to spot a solid script. But his one-two punch in the last couple of years with 2006's The Wicker Man (which could easily be included on that year's "worst of" list) and now Lakeview Terrace, gives his reputation quite a significant blow. Even with the most solid of Hollywood actors at his disposal, LaBute drops the ball as Jackson never seems menacing enough nor is he likable. He's just kind of there, sometimes even seeming to wink at the camera with his now trademarked sneers and scowls.

And by the way, even with all the extra work and overtime Abel says he puts in with the police force, does an L.A. cop really make enough scratch to live in a multi-million dollar home in Southern California? Just another blunder in a long string of misgivings and oversights to a film that becomes more and more unbelievable as it unfolds.