Grade: C

The tone seems strangely off in Luke Greenfield’s “The Girl Next Door,” which struggles to be a teen sex comedy with a dark, edgy side in the tradition of “Risky Business” but winds up a distinctly uneasy combination of light and shade. The picture boasts a talented cast, headed by the personable Emil Hirsch as a goody-two-shoes high school senior dying to break loose and Elisha Cuthbert as a going-straight ex-porno star who becomes the neighbor he ogles, and it features an eye-catching turn by Timothy Olyphant as the girl’s rabid ex-producer/boyfriend (half friendly, half menacing). But ultimately it’s more an intriguing experiment than a successful one.

Hirsch plays Matthew Kidman, a straight-arrow fellow who’d like to join his rebellious classmates for a spring fling but is restrained by his dedication to a detailed plan for his future (shown in his sponsorship of a campaign to bring a Cambodian boy to study locally, which will in turn improve his chances in a national scholarship competition and, eventually, prepare for the political career he longs after). Kidman’s life is changed when beautiful, frisky Danielle (Cuthbert) moves into the house next door to watch over the place for her absent aunt. Matthew spies the gorgeous gal disrobing through his bedroom window, and she takes revenge by maneuvering him into taking off his clothes while on a drive through the neighborhood and trying to make it home in the buff. The pair get friendly, but soon he discovers–mostly through the pathetic viewing habits of his nerdy best buddies Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano)–that Danielle used to star in adult films. Should he take advantage of her experience, or remain a good guy? Kidman is torn, but things are taken out of his hands when Kelly (Olyphant), Danielle’s ex-producer (and virtual pimp), arrives to entice her back into the trade. Alternately buddy-buddy and threatening to Matthew, Kelly’s malevolent intervention eventually leads Matthew and his friends to an “adult entertainment” convention, involves him with a powerful porn mogul named Hugo Posh (James Remar), gets him into legal trouble and a drug haze, and endangers both his scholarship chances and his career hopes. But a very unlikely twist toward the close puts Kidman back on track and in tandem with his dream girl.

It’s possible to glimpse the potential for really sharp social and political satire in the script by Stuart Blumberg, David T. Wagner, and Brent Goldberg, but it’s not effectively realized. Instead the disparate elements of the picture–especially the “Porky”-style first half and the darker, grimmer second–never jell, and things deteriorate as they go along, especially when the focus strays almost completely from Danielle (who simply disappears for a good section of the film), the tiresome shenanigans of Eli and Klitz gain greater attention, and Matthew manages to get high on Ecstasy at the very moment that he has to give his speech for scholarship consideration. The elaborate last reel twist that proves Matthew’s salvation is too clever by half, and ends with the message that in America, entrepreneurship is an admirable thing, whatever the field in which one chooses to engage oneself. (Its non-judgmental take on the porno scene isn’t very difference from the approvingly jokey one taken, for example, by the Showtime series “Family Business,” about producer Seymour Butts and his family.) And apparently involvement in the jiggly trade won’t have any effect on one’s political ambitions, if you just keep it quiet.

The result is that while there are shafts of intelligence and humor in “The Girl Next Door,” in the end it’s not enough of an advance for the director of Rob Schneider’s “The Animal.” It’s fortunate in the presence of Hirsch and Cuthbert, who are both likable, and especially Olyphant, who’s genuinely scary as the hot-and-cold Kelly. Remar has fun with Posh as well, and Dano (the boy from “L.I.E.”) manages to keep the geeky Klitz personable. Unfortunately, Marquette makes the ever-horny Eli an exasperating, annoying fellow, and he’s around too much for comfort. The picture doesn’t look all that great, but technically it gets by.

“The Girl Next Door” at least deserves credit for trying to be more than the usual raunchy, run-of-the-mill teen comedy. Unfortunately, in trying to add some spice to the customary formula, it winds up more tasteless than tasty.