An overachiever with an admission letter from Georgetown, his teachers' respect, and a spotless permanent record, in The Girl Next Door star Emile Hirsch has, as the saying goes, his whole life ahead of him. So why does life seem to be passing him by? At school, he watches enviously as other kids traipse off to the beach; he wants to join, but he's paralyzed by the suspicion that the consequences might outweigh the pleasure. As if sent to test his theory, new neighbor Elisha Cuthbert catches Hirsch watching her undress, then dares him to act on it, initiating a whirlwind courtship that leaves him so dizzy he almost doesn't notice when a friend reveals that she's a porn star.
Premises for teen sex comedies don't come much more high-concept than that, but teen sex comedies also don't come much warmer than The Girl Next Door. Having a solid source of inspiration doesn't hurt. From the retro ambient score by ex-Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger on up, virtually every moment of the film owes a debt to Risky Business. But with so many thoughtless teen movies around, it's refreshing to find one that looks to the best for inspiration, and it's impressive how easily director Luke Greenfield and a talented cast find Risky Business' balance between hedonistic release and high anxiety.
An appealing cross between Topher Grace and Alvin The Chipmunk, Hirsch makes for a convincing good kid who's never quite capable of going bad. When, prompted by a pair of nerdier friends (Paul Dano and Chris Marquette, both also funny), he decides to take proper advantage of dating a porn vet by directing their evening toward a cheap hotel, he looks ready to crawl out of his skin in shame. The film rarely improves on their sweet romance. It sputters whenever it has to move the story along, and it too often forgets to pay attention to Cuthbert; it makes a point about the mistake of treating women as sex objects, but it's perfectly content to use her as a plot device for the second and third acts.
Fortunately, a hilarious performance by Timothy Olyphant helps compensate. Playing Cuthbert's heavy-lidded former producer, he's the type of guy who trolls high schools looking for barely legal talent, but he carries himself with such greasy charm that he makes it hard to view him as a villain. He's more like a bad angel who, however accidentally, helps steer some uptight kids in the right direction. In The Girl Next Door, bad intentions and good deeds don't always cancel each other out.