½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth
screenplay by Barbara Curry
directed by Rob Cohen
by Bill Chambers Every once in a while, the absence of Roger Ebert becomes piercingly clear--like when J-Lo is gifted with a "first edition" of The Iliad in The Boy Next Door, a moment of Hollywood illiteracy so quintessential that it might've once seemed contrived for the sake of an Ebert quip. But whether or not the filmmakers realized how inapt their choice of Homer was (screenwriter Barbara Curry has disavowed any credit), this is an effective bit of characterization. The gifter is the titular boy next door, Noah (Ryan Guzman); the giftee is Jennifer Lopez's Mrs. Claire Petersen, an English teacher at his new school. Noah, although capable of bluffing his way through a conversation about Classics, can't be expected to know the publishing history of The Iliad--it's a nice, antiquey copy he thought would impress her, though he plays it cool, claiming he found it at a yard sale when he probably shoplifted it from a vintage bookstore. Claire should correct him, given her vocation, but why spoil a thoughtful gesture? And besides, that sort of pedantry bespeaks age, ultimately, and the generation gap between them is not something she wants underscored, because she's a middle-aged single mother enjoying the attentions of a younger man. Far from being the picture's nadir, it's really as elegant as its writing ever gets.