Jaimie Trueblood
Keith Staskiewicz
February 04, 2011 AT 05:00 AM EST

Talk about a doppelgänger. This dorm-room thriller starring Leighton Meester as Rebecca, an unhinged college student who develops a murderous fascination with her roommate (Minka Kelly), is itself a studied, almost frighteningly thorough duplicate of 1992’s Single White Female. From the premise to nearly all of the subsequent, predictable story beats, it’s as if the makers of The Roommate had their own vicarious obsession.

The story is simply airlifted cross-country from a New York City apartment building to ULA, a fictional Californian institution of higher learning in which all freshman students resemble runway models in their mid-to-late-twenties. Kelly’s Sara Matthews studies fashion design, which is basically an excuse to let the Friday Night Lights actress switch outfits every other scene and use the campus like a catwalk. Populating the university as if it’s an Abercrombie & Fitch training camp might work if the film were willing to delve with real depth into its themes — namely the fungibility of all these PYTs — but director Christian E. Christiansen seems unwilling to take advantage of even the one interesting facet of his casting: Kelly and Meester, with their wide eyes and cheekbones so sharp they would be confiscated by the TSA, already look like twins that were separated at birth by television producers.

Cam Gigandet (Burlesque) plays Sara’s default boyfriend, smirking and pouting his way through scenes like he’s practicing a James Dean impression in a mirror, and Kelly plays Sara as such a blank slate that you can almost understand why Rebecca projects so much onto her. Only Meester brings the slightest trace of something fascinating to her role. When she smiles, it’s perfectly located between a sweet display of affection and a snarling warning. Unfortunately, her character’s creepiness is mostly constrained to sitting alone in the dark and doing lots and lots of inappropriate staring. With few scares and minimal characterization, The Roommate is really just a far-below-par thriller that desperately wishes it were a different movie — a longing it shares with the audience. D

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