Originally created 04/09/04

At the Movies: 'The Girl Next Door'



"The Girl Next Door" is essentially "Risky Business" with porn stars instead of prostitutes, starring good-looking, likable Emile Hirsch in the Tom Cruise role and good-looking, likable Elisha Cuthbert in the Rebecca De Mornay role.

She helps him loosen up, he helps her live her past down - and in true high-school film fashion, everything ends up at the prom.

If you're going to re-envision a teen movie, the one that made Cruise a star back in 1983 is better than most sources of inspiration. "The Girl Next Door" could do the same thing for Hirsch, who - with his approachable demeanor and boyish visage - resembles a young George Stephanopoulos.

(That's apropos because his character, Matthew, is the Georgetown-bound student body president with aspirations of reaching the White House.)

Cuthbert, who plays Kiefer Sutherland's peril-prone daughter on "24," already is a star - but after sexy supporting roles in "Love Actually" and "Old School," this is her first shot at the lead.

She's lovely, with a Marilyn Monroesque combination of innocence and sex appeal. And she and Hirsch have an easy, flirtatious chemistry that transcends the movie's boy-fantasy premise: As Danielle, a former porn star with a heart of gold, she moves in next door to Matthew to start a new life in suburbia.

Director Luke Greenfield suffered nearly universal critical derision for his first movie, the typical gross-out comedy "The Animal," starring Rob Schneider as a poor schmo who undergoes surgery after a car crash and ends up with animal organs.

Greenfield seems a bit more in control here - his early scenes at Matthew's high school have a melancholy, dreamlike quality - and he chose the film's effective, eclectic soundtrack, which features songs from The Who, David Bowie and Queen, Echo and the Bunnymen and N.E.R.D.

But the movie seriously drags in the middle, despite the presence of Timothy Olyphant in the Joe Pantoliano, Guido-the-Killer-Pimp role. Recalling his scene-stealing performance as a drug dealer in "Go," Olyphant livens things up as Kelly, a volatile, dangerously charming porn producer who tries to drag Danielle back into the biz. When he's gone, he takes the movie with him.

And the script from Brent Goldberg and David T. Wagner (which is far superior to the one they wrote for "My Baby's Daddy") collapses just when it should be building toward a climax (pardon the pun) when everyone heads to the Adult Film Convention in Las Vegas.

The payoff at the end helps redeem things somewhat, thanks in large part to supporting work from the actors playing Matthew's nerdy best friends: Chris Marquette as the sex-crazed aspiring filmmaker Eli, and Paul Dano as shy, self-loathing Klitz.

(And yes, that really is the character's name. Maybe he should have been the porn star instead.)

By the end, all three of them learn, like Cruise's "Risky Business" character, that sometimes you just gotta say what the (expletive). In these fast-paced, post-millennial times, "The Girl Next Door" has reduced that sentiment to the pithier "(Expletive) it."

"The Girl Next Door," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R for strong sexual content, language and some drug/alcohol use. Running time: 102 minutes. Two stars out of four.



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