‘The Good Neighbor’ Review: Sometimes Maintaining a Friendship Can Be Murder
Sticking to the thriller genre that’s been his stomping ground on both the big and small screen, Stephan Rick’s second English-language film “The Good Neighbor” is a remake of his 2011 German-language debut feature of the same title. The setting has changed (to Latvia, presumably for financing reasons), but the story remains largely untouched. Now Luke Kleintank and Jonathan Rhys Meyers play new acquaintances whose shared complicity in an accidental death creates increasingly unsavory conflict.
Competent performances and a slick veneer make this revamp go down easily enough. Still, one wishes Rick had placed more emphasis on Hitchcockian suspense, rather than trusting the slow-moving tale will hold us via plot and character complexities that really aren’t particularly evident.
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American journalist David (Kleintank of the series “FBI: International” and “Man in the High Castle”) has accepted a job with the “European Press Network” in Riga in the wake of a bad relationship breakup. While he gets settled, his editor Grant (Bruce Davison) is letting him stay at a house he owns outside town. Thus he meets next-door neighbor Robert (Rhys Meyers), who proves helpful in getting a stubborn car started. In thanks, David invites the Latvian-British man out for a drink. They end up at a club where the new guy meets another Brit, vivacious Janine (Ieva Florence), striking sparks enough that they exchange numbers before she pedals off home.
Alas, on the tipsy drive back to their own abodes, the two men plow right into a bicyclist riding down the middle of a dark lane — one who is unmistakably Janine, and now unmistakably dead. Robert persuades stricken David there’s nothing they can do for her, and that contacting the police would only land them both in prison. So a cover-up commences that the local seems to hope will bind him to his new best friend.
But David’s allegiance has a queasy edge, as do his actions whenever it appears they might be found out. Inevitably that begins to imperil others, not least Janine’s sister Vanessa (Eloise Smyth), with whom David becomes involved once she seeks his help — because, awkwardly, he’s been assigned to report on the case of her sibling’s death. (Never mind asking why an international news service would bother covering a local hit-and-run story.) Needless to say, that new attachment threatens the increasingly possessive, creepy Robert.
An occasionally inspired actor who can also be wholly off in the wrong role, Rhys Meyers is in good form making Robert pleasant enough to lure in unwary David, but also nuts enough to trigger the viewer’s alarms early on. Of course, with its echoes of everything from “Strangers on a Train” to “Single White Female,” the basic dynamic between the two leads is a familiar one. Robert is given almost no backstory, and the script isn’t really shocking or clever enough to make him a memorable villain, so the actor can only take it so far. (The movie does not explicitly venture into retro “Crazy Homicidal Gay Usurper” territory, though there’s a suggestive whiff of that.) Kleintank is OK in his more colorless protagonist part, while Smyth gets some grit into the grieving sister, and Davison is good as usual.
This kind of slippery-slope narrative can hardly help holding our attention, even if Rick does little to maximize its tension, keeping violence mostly off-screen and maintaining a pace that’s far from taut. The film has a widescreen look that flatters Riga, but its handsome brightness doesn’t stir much suspenseful atmosphere. (Nor does Enis Rotthoff’s original score.)
These things would matter less if “The Good Neighbor” were sufficiently ingenious in its twists or devious in psychological nuance. But it’s not — in fact, there are some sloppy details that diminish intended big moments, like a kayaking mishap that doesn’t make much sense, or a false alibi Vanessa improbably sees through before the police do.
In the end, this second “Good Neighbor” (not to be confused with an unrelated interim film of the same name, starring James Caan) is polished and well-acted enough to provide a reasonably entertaining 90 minutes or so. But it’s not original, tense, or even plausible enough to prevent a feeling of moderate letdown once that span has passed.
“The Good Neighbor” opens June 17 on 10 U.S. screens, simultaneous with on demand launch.
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