Chuck Zlotnick, Screen Gems
Patrick Wilson, left, and Samuel L. Jackson star in dramatic thriller "Lakeview Terrace."

LAKEVIEW TERRACE — ** — Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity, slurs, brief drugs, brief gore, brief sex)

When "Lakeview Terrace" concentrates on its characters, it's somewhat watchable. Unfortunately, this dramatic thriller is more determined to make a point — repeatedly and pretty stridently — rather than doing that.

But that's to be expected, considering the movie was directed by Neil LaBute, a filmmaker and playwright whose works (even the best of them) have their button-pushing moments.

And even though this particular film was written by people other than infamous BYU product LaBute (veteran screenwriters David Loughery and Howard Korder are credited), it still feels very much like something he would have created.

The movie examines the still-meaningful topic of racism. The twist here is the prejudicial character is an African-American. He's Abel Turner, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

A longtime LAPD patrol officer, this widower has his hands full dealing with two children, petulant teenager Celia and Marcus (Regine Nehy and Jaishon Fisher).

He's also wary of any newcomers to his hillside community. That includes Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), an interracial couple who just purchased the home next to his.

At first, Abel is content with giving Chris a few "friendly" warnings about any inappropriate behavior. But once it becomes clear that the two don't see eye to eye, Abel does a few things to make the Mattsons know they're not welcome.

The film builds some suspense and tension in the first half. But it turns remarkably unsubtle and clunky after that, including a ridiculous Hollywood-style confrontation scene at the end.

Also, it would help if we liked Wilson's character even a bit. Unfortunately, he's a bit of a self-involved jerk. In the absence of anyone to like or root for — we certainly can't feel that way for Jackson's bigoted Abel — it's hard to feign any real interest.

"Lakeview Terrace" is rated PG-13 for some strong violent action (shootings, brawling, a beating, vehicular mayhem and violence against women), occasional strong profanity, some suggestive language and references, racial slurs and other derogatory language, brief drug references (narcotics), brief gore and blood, and a brief sex scene (mostly implied). Running time: 106 minutes.

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