The Girl Next Door (2004)

I knew within the first half hour of The Girl Next Door just how fake it was going to be. Matthew (Emile Hirsch), a conscientious high-school senior angling for a scholarship to Georgetown, falls in love with Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), a comely young woman who’s housesitting next door. One of Matthew’s A-V geek friends (Chris Marquette, who resembles a very young John Cusack and steals all his scenes) shows Matthew an interesting video: Danielle, his dream girl, in a porno tape. Danielle disrobes in the porno, her back turned chastely to the camera, and I had to stifle a laugh. If you’re going to make a movie about a porn star, you don’t get an actress who stipulates no nudity.

The Girl Next Door is a shameless copy of Risky Business, that Reagan-era male fantasy that scored some satirical points on the ethics (or lack thereof) of the day. Such a film today, in a time when Donald Trump has a hit show on which he fires people, would be extra relevant. But The Girl Next Door has no particular relevance to anything. Instead of Tom Cruise’s wannabe-shark, we have sweet little Matthew, who’s so virtuous he wants to be a politician, and the movie doesn’t even have the wit to make fun of this junior glad-hander with a porn star on his arm. Danielle wants to get out of the porn business, and all she needs is a Nice Boy to love her for who she Really Is.

But who is she? This movie written and directed by guys hasn’t the faintest idea or curiosity about what’s in Danielle’s blonde head. Elisha Cuthbert, who resembles five or six different women depending on the angle (Naomi Watts here, a suggestion of Kelly McGillis there), may or may not be a capable actress (I’ve seen her briefly in Old School and haven’t caught her on 24), but she hardly has the material here to prove herself as anything other than eye candy. As conceived, Danielle is a gleaming fantasy chick — she barely even gets her hair wet when she jumps in a pool. Who was Danielle before porno? Why did she get into it? What would she like to do once she leaves the business? You will find the answers to none of these; the only character whose future rates concern is Matthew.

For a while, when Matthew and his geek friends swim among the porn-world barracudas at an adult-movie get-together, The Girl Next Door seems primed to comment on the universe of which Danielle was once a part. It’s just an excuse for scantily-clad women prancing about (as is an earlier visit to a strip club), though Timothy Olyphant and James Remar turn up as rival porn producers. Olyphant, coiffed and stubbled to look like Johnny Knoxville, exudes a seedy frat-boy menace, while Remar, as a swankier producer with a parrot who sits guard over his phallic porn-industry award, has aged with class and brings some adult suavity to this adolescent comedy.

It’s saying something when a movie’s only brushes with reality come in the form of worst-case-scenario daydreams (of which there’s probably one too many). The Girl Next Door clearly disapproves of the porn world, but at the same time it uses porn stars as a deus ex machina to get Matthew some quick cash, and it uses Elisha Cuthbert as a come-on in the, well, porny ad campaign. (The way she’s posed on the poster, with her glazed open-mouthed expression, is redolent of the box covers of higher-rent porn tapes.) Towards the end, I was thinking the movie might’ve been more interesting if it had been a porn film. At least it would’ve been made by people with some insight into the adult-film milieu, as opposed to people with insight into nothing.

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