Joel Goodson and Guido the Killer Pimp are nowhere to be found. But with its smutty sweetness and cynical comedy, The Girl Next Door essentially is Risky Business 21 years later, right down to its sex-based scheme to make a buck.
That it’s essentially an imitation is no knock on the fact that it’s a winning sleeper, comically sharper and smarter than most of its peers. Though it offers little for 24’s Elisha Cuthbert to do, The Girl Next Door features two very good performances from Emile Hirsch and Timothy Olyphant.
Hirsch stars as Matthew Kidman, a high-school senior who realizes in a prologue montage that he has no senior memory worth writing down. When lovely housesitter Danielle (Cuthbert) stops for a stint in the suburbs, though, that’s all about to change.
There are obstacles. She catches him semi-inadvertently peeping at her, the cheesy synthesizer of that scene a more overt nod to Risky Business. And she is a bit older than Matthew, but not creepily so.
The two begin a sweet courtship, but it turns out Danielle’s housesitting vacation is not one from a typical line of work. Matthew’s friend, Eli (Chris Marquette), is so porn-addled, a Vivid Video cap is a main accessory, and he recognizes Danielle from his vast video collection.
It’s an early twist, so it’s good that the film has more fun up its sleeve. Matthew’s pursuit of unexpected love throws him into the alternately playful and dangerous world of porn magnates, namely Danielle’s unpredictable former flame, Kelly (Olyphant).
Director Luke Greenfield directs the convoluted material with a sure hand, keeping things more screwball than sordid. And although its romantic chemistry is somewhat undercut by Cuthbert’s mostly vacant acting, Hirsch makes up for it with leading-man aplomb.
His innocent look (think River Phoenix with Jason Bateman’s Hogan Family haircut) adds to the authenticity. And although we’ve seen the inadvertently-high-on-drugs-at-important-moment bit before, he endows his cute little speech of love during it with the proper romantic dedication.
And whether he’s flirting with a dowdy bank teller or threatening Matthew, Olyphant remains the most fun character actor that we don’t see enough. Following up his flamboyant turn in A Man Apart, here he’s an uneasy combination of a helpful wiseacre brother figure and menacing thug.
The Girl Next Door isn’t groundbreaking, but it does have the rare climactic twist that’s unexpected and logical, plus a killer soundtrack. Any movie that can convincingly link the work of Donovan and Harry Nilsson to David Gray and Elliott Smith deserves some sort of special award.