The Boys Next Door

Director: Penelope Spheeris
Maxwell Caulfield, Charlie Sheen, Patti D'Arbanville

Given my past disclosure of my dislike of sports, you have probably guessed that I avoid anything sports related as much as possible. But I must admit every so often I hear a statement from an athlete that sticks with me, because I see how it can apply to other aspects of life. One such statement was from boxer Joe Lewis, who came up with the famed statement, "You can run, but you can't hide." Actually, reports state that Lewis actually said, "He can run, but he can't hide," but let's stick with what's more widely believed for the sake of this opening for this review, okay? Anyway, I have found that statement to be correct in a number of aspects of my life. Living in a fairly big city, I have had some close brushes to various crimes in my neighborhood, from the bank a block from my place of residence that every so often gets robbed by a crackhead, to the homegrown terrorist plot to bomb government buildings just a mile or so from my place of residence. With all this heavy stuff happening in my city, one might think I would be tempted to move to the sticks, where supposedly things are a lot safer. But I have learned you often can't be safe in small town Canada as well, including my small home town. In a previous review, I told you about a classmate of mine that I long suspected would turn up to be no good, and I was proven right years later when he got mixed up in a murder. An isolated incident? Hardly. In the late 1990s, someone in my home town went to a wedding party that his estranged wife was attending, and shot her and eight other people before turning the gun on himself. At the time, it was the second worst mass shooting in Canadian history - still might be, as a matter of fact.

I've told you all of this to make a point - that murder or attempted murder happens all over, from the obvious places to places not so obvious, and all of us to some degree or another cannot escape it. All we can do, besides trying as much as possible to have as little as possible brush with murder, is maybe try and understand it. That is, try to understand what the root causes of someone committing murder are so that we may try and prevent it from happening again in the future. Over the years, I have learned about a number of factors that have caused people to turn to murder, though as you will see, fighting these causes is a tough challenge. For example, no doubt you know that insanity has made a number of people commit murder. How do you stop insanity from happening? Certainly, more money devoted to health care might help a little. But a person who slowly becomes insane enough to kill someone can be invisible to a number of people. How many times have we heard reports about neighbors of a crazy killer never once suspecting that their neighbor was a complete crackpot. Another way some people not in their right mind have killed people is with drunkenness. But getting rid of booze is a real problem and can lead to other crimes, which was learned when Prohibition was put into effect in the United States decades ago. One other way that people get into the wrong frame of mind and end up killing someone can be from years of abuse. If someone from their childhood up to adulthood are regularly abused, it can both damage the mind and build up internal rage that when let out can be deadly.

When I was in high school, I wrote a paper on playwright George Bernard Shaw, and in my research I came across a quote from Shaw that stuck with me, enough that even The Boys Next Doordecades later the quote convinces me of one other strong reason people commit murder. The quote from Shaw was, "The greatest of our evils and the worst of our crimes is poverty." Think about it for a little bit. How many times all over the world have poor people committed murder? Certainly a lot more than people of wealth. Being poor often makes one commit crimes to try and better themselves, crimes which can lead to murder. Being poor can be psychologically damaging, enough to make one lash out in deadly ways. Anyway, I think I have said enough about my theories of why murder happens. I've mentioned all of this to get you to understand why I felt pretty prepared before watching The Boys Next Door, a movie that promised to explore the idea of how someone could turn from being law abiding to law breaking. But as it turned out, I wasn't prepared for some really uncomfortable moments. Before I get into that, a synopsis of the plot. The boys mentioned in the title of the movie are two southern California teenagers named Roy (Caulfield, Grease 2) and Bo (Sheen, Two And A Half Men), who are best friends. They are pretty much outcasts at their high school, and their home lives don't seem to be much better. When graduation comes along, with no college or any post-secondary training seemingly possible, they seem destined to work low-paying jobs at the local factories for the rest of their lives. The two friends decide to take a short road trip to Los Angeles for a few days to cheer themselves up before starting their lives of drudgery. What neither boy knows is that by the time those few days are up, they will be the most wanted criminals in all of Los Angeles.

Since The Boys Next Door was a production by (post-Corman) New World Pictures, it may be understandable that some potential viewers may feel that the movie would essentially be concerned with delivering exploitation material. While the movie does earn its "R" rating, at the same time there isn't a real exploitive tone to the movie. One of the reasons why this is so is that the movie takes the time to explore its characters, showing their lives and personalities before they go on their rampage of terror. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the characters of Roy and Bo are outcasts with their peers at their high school. Certainly, their behavior there explains in part why. We see them pull a prank at the high school grounds at night in the opening scene, a prank that shakes up their peers the next morning. When the truth comes out, the peeved but tired reactions from their peers suggest they have done such stuff many times in the past. Needless to say, they are not invited to a classmate's graduation party, but the two crash the party all the same and make nuisances of themselves. We subsequently learn a little about Roy and Bo's home lives, which isn't much better than their lives at school. Roy's mother didn't attend his graduation, and neither apparently did his father, who is a drunk that doesn't speak to his son in the brief time we see him. Bo's parents are not seen or referred to at any moment, and his grandparents just send him a simple congratulatory greeting card with some cash stashed inside. All this and more insight takes place in the first half hour, so by the time that the boys start their trip to Los Angeles, we can confidently feel that we have a good handle on these two young men. It's clear that they are two are walking sticks of dynamite, and it's not a question if they will explode, but what will inevitably light their short fuses and make them explode in a way that what subsequently happens cannot be taken back in any way at all.

We know early what has shaped Bo and Roy, but what is interesting is that the screenplay by Glen Morgan and James Wong (who later produced The X-Files) doesn't make them simple-minded rampaging killers. They have a number of quirks that make them memorable and stand out. Roy confesses to Bo at one point, "I've got stuff inside of me." Indeed, Bo later declares to his hot-headed friend, "You're righteously p*ssed off." But Roy has a lot more going on in his head than a lot of repressed rage that inevitably bursts out. There are some strong hints that Roy is repressing homosexual feelings towards his best and only friend, and at the same time tries to cover it with violent acts. At one point, he says about a passing girl, "If I were drunk and she were asking for it...", and later, when another girl calls him a "queer", it triggers another violent episode that results in him severely injuring the young woman. When Roy and Bo come across a local homosexual in their travels, it triggers another violent moment that strongly hints of self-loathing and secret desire. No doubt adding to Roy's stress is that Bo doesn't seem interested; Bo at one point states, "I don't want to sound like a f*g, but you're my best friend." Bo himself, while not full of Roy's rage and loathing, all the same has some interesting aspects to his character. Much of the violence the two boys make actually isn't initiated by him - Roy is the spark. Though when the violence starts, Bo in short notice gets involved in one way or another, whether it's stealing candy at a gas station while Roy beats the attendant, or joining in the beating of the homosexual after Roy has thrown the first blows. While all of these violent incidents are happening, his perspective on things seems severely warped. When Roy shoots to death a young couple, Bo exclaims, "Why did you have to kill her?" Towards the end, when things take an especially dark turn for the two and they are on the run, Bo exclaims during the chase, "This is ridiculous!", in a tone that indicates mild annoyance and seemingly not comprehending that this may be the end.

The screenplay for The Boys Next Door correctly doesn't make the rampage of Bo and Roy one violent episode after another with little to no pause. There is a significant break between all of the violent acts, showing that even the most despicable of criminals aren't committing crimes 24-7. I appreciated these pauses because they showed extra insight into Bo and Roy, how they react to common day sights and occurences among other things. I also appreciated that this screenplay, unlike many other concerning killers on rampage, had scenes that showed us the consequences of the violence. We see the beaten gas station attendant in the hospital looking very worse for wear, and a friend of the murdered homosexual is shown to be extremely upset as he's interrogated by the police. Director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World) handles these sequences very well, as well as staging the violence that happened just minutes or seconds before. Spherris starts off by adding a sickening feeling just before the violence starts; we in the audience sense something bad is going to happen and we can't do a thing about it. It's very effective. Spheeris also gets the cast to give great performances. It is of course mainly Caulfield and Sheen's show - and they are completely convincing, being scary and believable - but all of the supporting players, no matter how small their parts, sell their roles successfully as well. Though while I'm speaking of the supporting players, I want to point out the one quibble I had with the movie. As Bo and Roy continue their rampage, their crimes are investigated by two detectives played by Christopher McDonald (The Black Room) and Hank Garrett (The Rosebud Beach Hotel). Their amount of footage manages to land exactly between the dividing line between being major characters and one-shot characters. As a result, they don't really seem to fit in this particular narrative. These characters should either have been given more to do or been totally eliminated. But other than that minor problem, The Boys Next Door is a winner, taking what could have been another mindless thriller and adding substance that will make the movie stick in your head for a long time.

(Posted June 4, 2018)

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See also: Confessions Of A Serial Killer, Daddy's Girl, The Paperboy