When George Harrison released "My Sweet Lord" in 1970, he was sued by publishers of the Chiffons' 1962 hit, "He's So Fine," and eventually found to have subconsciously borrowed from that earlier song -- to the tune of more than $1 million in damages. If only music and movies shared the same proprietary creative standard. But unfortunately there's no one to prosecute in the case of "The Girl Next Door," which seems mainly about ripping off 1983's "Risky Business" without attribution, right down to its awkward teenage hero's tighty whities.
Just like its predecessor, "The Girl Next Door" centers on a straight-arrow, teen-idol-cute high school senior who gets an abrupt education in real-world human relations courtesy of a voluptuous and experienced blonde. The so-called update here is that instead of risky business transpiring between a high school senior (Tom Cruise) and a misunderstood prostitute (Rebecca De Mornay), it's a high school senior (Emile Hirsch) and a misunderstood porn star (Elisha Cuthbert) who get down in "The Girl Next Door."
See the difference?
Hirsch's character, Matthew, is in the running for a scholarship to Georgetown when adult film actress Danielle temporarily moves in next door. Before he knows what's hit him, she's invading his every thought (most hilariously in a blue daydream where she meets his parents) and presenting a heap of trouble that threatens his college plans, not to mention his life. In his rush to rescue Danielle from a life of oiled leading men, Matthew runs afoul of her film-producer ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) and finds himself scrambling to come up with $25,000 to keep the wolves at bay. Matthew's parents, meanwhile, are clueless to the new X-rated subtext of their family life, even when a bevy of porn stars shows up to escort their son and his nerdy pals to the prom.
The broadest possible characterization of all this is that it's "Risky Business" meets John Cusack's entire early filmography, and somewhere in there a nod is probably also owed to shock jock Howard Stern's infamous radio matching of high schoolers with porn-star prom dates. But what it lacks in originality, "The Girl Next Door" does offset via a combination of charismatic leads (Hirsch and Cuthbert have a meet-cute chemistry that is curiously missing from the rest of the porn industry) and coming-of-age humor that occasionally hits the mark. Its soundtrack features some odd choices (porn queens arrive to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On"), but also plenty of stylish beats by the likes of N.E.R.D. and the Sneaker Pimps. And every once in a while, director Luke Greenfield (forever stuck listing Rob Schneider's "The Animal" as his feature filmmaking debut) manages something a little bit bold and surprisingly inspired.
The final insurmountable problem is that writers Stuart Blumberg ("Keeping the Faith") and David Wagner and Brent Goldberg (the team that brought you "National Lampoon's Van Wilder") really come up short when things get serious, resorting to cliches and a whole lot of hooey about "moral fiber." The movie's profound message, seemingly designed to win a spot alongside "Sometimes you've just got to say, `What the [expletive]?' " in catch-phrase trivia books, is: "Always know if the juice is worth the squeeze."
OK, so maybe "Risky Business" it ain't.
Janice Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.