Two Wrongs

starstar
“…don’t make the ending right.”

twowrongsThe first half of this is actually well-written, asking some difficult moral questions that left me intrigued, and wondering how they would be resolved. The answer, unfortunately, is by an escalating series of plot twists, culminating in one of the more ridiculous climaxes I’ve ever seen. I could go on to say, “even in a Lifetime TVM”, but that would be unkind, since I’ve seen both good and bad examples from there over the past year. Though as an aside, I note Netflix being increasingly quiet about the ties of films to Lifetime, which is interesting; but given the severe inaccuracy of their synopsis (No, the heroine does not get “sucked into a dangerous underworld”), that’s more likely a Netflix issue.

Sarah (Zinser) is a single mom, devoted to her daughter, who also works as a nurse. It’s clear from the get-go that someone is stalking her, and eventually the daughter is abducted on her way home from school. Sarah is called by the kidnapper, but his demands are not anything like you’d expected. For it turns out, one of Sarah’s patients is trying to escape his own past, where he was accused of kidnapping a young girl himself, who allegedly died while in the trunk of his car. Acquitted on a technicality, he moved away, but the father of his victim – whose mother also suffered a complete psychological breakdown as a result – has tracked the perp down, and is now intent on using Sarah as a vehicle for his revenge.  How far will she go, in order to save her own daughter?

Like I said: it’s a difficult moral question, not least in the early going, when the film maintains a nice sense of ambiguity as to whether or not the target of her second-hand wrath is guilty. If so, then the entire situation becomes a cascading series of wrongness, potentially culminating in the death of at least one other innocent. While a fascinatingly dark scenario, it’s not exactly Lifetime fodder, and things start to go off the rails when Sarah’s mother [from whom she clearly gets her style of “helicopter parenting”] shows up, extracting a confession that removes any ambiguity. He’s guilty as charged, m’lud – and probably guilty of a lot of other things, too. Hanging’s too good for him. From then on, the script staggers from one ill-conceived mis-step to the next, through everyone going on a road-trip and an amazingly coincidental meeting at a gas-station, to an ending that literally drips everywhere. There is, apparently, no loose end which can’t be tied up by someone drowning randomly and floating off downstream, resolving all those tricky moral dilemmas. Though Zinser is solid enough as a mom prepared to do anything to get her daughter back, she could have been Meryl Streep here, and still wouldn’t be capable of papering over the glaring flaws in the later portion of the script.

Dir: Tristan Dubois
Star: Gillian Zinser, Ryan Blakely, Aidan Devine

Miss Diamond

starstar
“More like, Miss Cubic Zirconia”

diamond1There’s an exhibition showcasing the first diamonds ever mined in Germany, dug up by the company belonging to Buhler (Kier). Keeping thing safe is the responsibility of security expert Tim (Kretschmann), who doesn’t realize that renowned jewel thief Lana (Speichert) has her eyes on the jewels. So they’re both in for a nasty surprise, because after Lana is caught by Tim in the process of stealing them, it turns out the diamonds are completely fake. Buhler gives her an ultimatum: Lana must find the real diamonds, or she’ll be handed over to the police, and to ensure she doesn’t just run off, tasks Tim with keeping an eye on her. It soon becomes clear, though, that there is more to the mystery than there appears initially, and someone is very keen to stop them from getting to the truth.

This is flat and uninspired in almost every way, beginning with the complete lack of chemistry between Speichert and Kretschmann, though in their defense, the dubbing isn’t exactly helping them. [Or the beloved Udo Kier, who seems to be sleep-walking through his role] However, that can’t explain away the story, which is about as far from sparkling like diamonds as possible, even if you allow for the ludicrous central concept. Diamonds. In Germany.  It features villains who resolutely refuse to behave with even a modicum of common sense. For example, if ever I become an evil overlord, capture my enemies, and need to dispose of them, I will kill them on the spot, not tie them up underground, with the intention of letting them be run over by a slow-moving tunneling machine.

Which brings me to the topic of the action showcased here, and unfortunately, most of it ranges from the physically impossible to the cringe-inducing. The former is showcased during that escape from the tunneling machine, where Lana somehow dangles from a chain with one foot, while simultaneously pulling the 180-lb plus Tim up off the ground. The latter sees Lana doing front flips as she is simply trotting across a roof. Who does she think she is, Catwoman? This soundtrack also appears to be composed by somebody who has listened to too many James Bond films, which simply reminds the viewer of the gulf between this and any 007 movie of the same era.

A couple of marginal saving graces do exist, just not in the central performances, main story-line or cinematic direction. I was kinda amused – perhaps unintentionally – by how crap Tim is. He’s the one that’s always getting knocked out, captured, falling out out boats and generally put in peril, from which Lana has to save him. Some of the vehicle stunt-work is not too bad either. But overall, what you appear to have here is little more than a underwhelming TV pilot, certainly bad enough not to make it to series.

Dir: Michael Karen
Star: Sandra Speichert, Thomas Kretschmann, Udo Kier, Michael Mendl
a.k.a. Die Diebin

The Avenger

starstar
“It’s a cover-up!”

Teetering on the edge of qualifying as false information, this TVM was originally released under the more relevant, yet great deal less salacious (and, let’s be honest, less appealing) title of A Nanny’s Revenge, along with a greatly subdued sleeve. Marketing works, people: for put it this way, I’d never have watched it in that presentation. I can’t feel utterly cheated, even if what I got is closer to a low-rent version of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle than the tempting treat promised by the cover. 

Gina Wright (O’Keefe) has a really bad day – though likely not as bad as her parents. For her father dies in a building-site accident, and her mother in a car crash as she rushes to hospital. The site owner, mogul Parker Randall (Pratt, channeling Alec Baldwin), seeks to cover up the shoddy Chinese materials responsible, and fakes a toxicology report to show that Gina’s dad was drunk. A bit of a white knight – we first meet her quitting her job as a teacher, in support of an unjustly fired colleage – Gina won’t stand for that. So she hatches a plan to expose Parker’s wrongdoing, and to that end, worms her way into a job as nanny to his son, by befriending his wife, Brynn (Pratt). Little does she know, however, that her  employer’s predatory instincts are not limited to the business world, and he’s making plans for a hostile takeover, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

There was a moment towards the end of this, where for one glorious second I thought Gina, Brynn and Parker’s spurned mistress were going to team up in order to take revenge on the man they all have good reason to hate, in a Murder on the Orient Express kinda way. I’m filing that one away in my box of script ideas for potential future use, since the movie here failed to take advantage of it. That’s inexplicable, since what it instead delivers is more or less entirely predictable, and if generally competent and not badly-acted, rarely gets beyond the obvious. For instance, we know Gina is impulsive. Because someone explicitly tells us she is. Oh, and she wears a nose-ring (although does not sport the neon highlights shown on the cover), which in the world of TV movies, is one step above being a crack whore.

There’s an entirely unnecessary subplot involving a colleague of her Dad, who is trying to take Parker to court – he meets the end necessary to the plot, in order to show how ruthless a villain Gina is facing. Indeed, by the end, you’ll likely find yourself with a long laundry-list of ways in which this could have been improved, or come closer to the movie promised by the sleeve. More violence. More nudity – well, make that any nudity. Boost the subtext about big business being bad into a whole class-war thing. Make Parker look slightly more like Donald Trump. Instead, you’ll get this vanilla pudding: filling enough, just not what many people would call tasty.

Dir: Curtis Crawford
Star: Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Michael Woods, Victoria Pratt, Cynthia Preston
a.k.a. A Nanny’s Revenge

Nightmare Nurse

starstar
“Nurse shark.”

nightmarenurseThis Lifetime TV movie is the story of Brooke (Butler) and Lance (Good). The happy young couple get into an accident returning from celebrating her promotion at the restaurant where she works. The pedestrian they hit is killed, while Lance breaks his leg, and is confined to bed while he recuperates. To assist with that task, since Brooke has to work, they hire Chloe (Hartley). She initially appears perfect for the job, helping out with the household chores as well as her nursing work. However, it’s not long before strange little incidents suggest that not all is well in Chloeland. We see her life with an abusive boyfriend, and she develops an attachment for Lance well beyond the normal bounds of professional concern. Might this, possibly, be something to do with the accident?

Oh, who am I trying to kid. This is a Lifetime TV movie. Of course it has something to do with the accident, although the precise details are vague until the final 20 minutes. Which are actually when the film raised itself beyond the painfully humdrum, not least because of the return of Traci Lords. She plays “good” nurse Barbara, in what initially appears to be a glorified cameo, yet ends up an extremely pivotal role. Lords wipes the floor with the rest of the cast, and it’s a shame she is almost absent from the first hour. [It has to be said, knowledge of her past adds to the frisson here; she wouldn’t exactly be person most women would want caring for their boyfriends!] The final battle, as Brooke defends her territory like a lioness, is certainly the most fun this has to offer.

Unfortunately, you have to get through an awful lot of Very Obvious to reach that point. Naturally, it’s another sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of mental illness and the stigma faced by those who suffer fro… Oh, again – who am I trying to kid? Chloe is as batty as a fruitcake, whose direction appears to be the result of viewing Fatal Attraction. Except, Hartley isn’t exactly Glenn Close, no matter how wide she opens her eyes and stares really hard. She’d have been better off watching Nurse 3D, and taking lessons in scenery-chewing from Paz de la Huerta. Butler and Good are serviceable enough as the perfect couple with impeccable teeth. Though I’m surprised Lance remains faithful, given the Lifetime tendency for all men to be unreliable in the loyalty department.

It just about stays on the acceptable side of entertainment, until the final reel. However, the main thing you’ll take from that is how much more entertaining it all might have been, if the makers had Lords play Chloe instead.

Dir: Craig Moss
Star: Sarah Butler, Steven Good, Lyndsay Hartley, Traci Lords

Forget and Forgive

starstar
“Largely forgettable.”

forgetAmnesia as a plot device is something which almost inevitably triggers heavy eye-rolling in me, because the results nearly all involve the subject regaining their memory in the precise way required by the plot. It’s so incredibly contrived. About the only films to have used amnesia that I like, are Memento, which was utterly consistent in its depiction, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, which was not about the effects of losing your memory, but much more about what happens when it comes back. This Canadian TVM will not become the third in the series, squandering some potentially interesting ideas.

Anna Walker (Röhm) is the subject of a vicious interrogation and beating, then nearly drowns. She wakes up in the hospital with no memory of her life or her family, and is surprised to discover she is actually a vice detective, with a husband, Tate (Napier) and extremely bratty teenage daughter, Emily (Douglas). Turns out her new personality is also radically different from the old one; a good deal stricter, as Emily finds to her distaste. That’s true at work as well; turns out that Anna was not entirely a straight arrow as a cop, as she discovers after finding a box in her closet containing a cellphone and a lease agreement to an apartment where, in turn, she finds large wads of cash. Her partner (Runyan) seems to be equally crooked Is this tied to the incident which caused her amnesia?

Röhm herself is okay, and the opening sequence is surprisingly brutal, given the medium and origins. However, the rest of the cast range from the thoroughly bland (Runyan) to the immensely irritating (Douglas), though in the latter’s case at least, this seems deliberate. This would be forgivable if the script managed to live up to the toughness with which it begins. In other hands, the general scenario might have made for an interesting study: how a sudden, externally triggered change in someone’s character affects them and those around them.

However, the film instead chooses to wander off in a number of far less successful directions. Turns out there’s a young prostitute that Anna was protecting, and whose existence poses a threat to those at the top of the vice food-chain. Throw in a pointless subplot involving her relationship with her estranged father – because, this is a Lifetime TVM, after all – plus some meaningless flashbacks of her wandering in the woods, wearing her police uniform, and you’ll probably find your interest waning well before the climax. It’s likely too much for all save the most undemanding of viewers to forgive, and everyone else will have no problems at all forgetting this one.

Dir: Tristan Dubois
Star: Elisabeth Röhm, Tygh Runyan, Neil Napier, Vivien Endicott Douglas

The Wrong Car

starstar
“The first Uber paranoia film?”

wrongcarI was kinda amused by the concept here, which tells the story of law student Trudy (Savre), who is drugged and raped after getting into what she thinks is a “NetCar” – a thinly-disguised Uber – vehicle, only to find it driven by a predator who waits near venues for vulnerable (read, “drunk”) young women, who are expecting the Uber… sorry, the “NetCar” they ordered to show up. The police are, as typical in this kind of TV movie, powerless to help, and it’s up to Savre and her roommate, Gretchen (Raisa) to track down the perpetrator. To that end, Trudy becomes a NetCar driver herself, seeking to stop the rapist before any more women fall victim to him. Her new career puts Trudy in the way of further danger, after a pair of gangbangers get into her car, yet also brings her potential romance in the cute, well-off shape of investment advisers Donovan (Davis).

My amusement was partly due to family history, as Chris was (for a couple of months) an Uber driver for some extra money. Turned out not to be worth her effort for the return – but nor was her life as a driver anywhere near as exciting as Trudy’s. Chris was never hijacked by anyone, to go pick up one of their friends who’d been shot, for instance. Nor did she meet any cute, well-off investment advisers. Not that she told me, anyway. For this is a neo-Luddite scare story, about the dangers of a technological innovation, which carefully ignores things like, for example, the fact that anyone who calls an Uber car can then see exactly where it is on the app – so would surely know, even if utterly drunk, it was not pulled up in front of them. But why let that get in the way of a made-for-Lifetime slab of misandry?

For, make no mistake, that’s what it is: there is literally not a man in the film who is what I would call a decent human being, being a selection of sexists and creepers, when not actually rapey. After a couple of movies from Lifetime that have actually been solid (Big Driver and Deliverance Creek), this was definitely a step back into the cliches for which their previous output was somewhat notorious. That said, as a pulpy pot-boiler of entertainment, it’s competently created, with Savre a credible enough heroine who has a nice arc after her assault, going through the various stages of reaction on her way to deciding Something Must Be Done. It’s not too hard to see where this is going to end up, and the script in general offers few, if any, surprises – one, to be precise. Yet I can’t deny a certain gratification is provided by the final resolution, though I’d probably still have preferred justice involving a more “bullet to genitals” approach. Probably not very Lifetime-friendly that, though…

Dir: John Stimpson
Star: Danielle Savre, Jackson Davis, Francia Raisa, Christina Elmore
a.k.a. Black Car

Home Invasion

starstar
“Not-so sweet home.”

homeinvasionNicole Johnson (Sheridan) comes home with her daughter to find a robbery in progress, but is a well-armed home-owner and ends up blowing away one of the intruders. The other, Ray (Howell), bails with their getaway driver, Jade (Duff), who was also the dead perp’s girlfriend. She vows to take vengeance on Nicole and her family, in a variety of forms, from posing as a swimming teacher, to poisoning the customers at Nicole’s restaurant, then setting the place on fire and framing her for arson. Plus, of course, she’s a believer in the old Biblical law of an eye for an eye – or, in this case, a boyfriend for a boyfriend, Jade fixing to inject her nemesis’s other half with that old “undetectable poison”, potassium chloride. I have probably just got myself on a government watch-list by Googling that. Should have done it on my boss’s computer. Oh, well….

So, before they come to take me away, this is a competent if hardly memorable TV movie, which is hampered significantly by the limitations of that medium. While the concept isn’t bad, the inability to go full-bore into it with the necessary energy and – let’s be honest – luridness, leaves the end result as bland as a bowl of rice-pudding. Duff isn’t bad, with a feral intelligence that’s somewhat endearing – frankly, I was largely rooting for her to get the revenge she craves – and Howell is good value as ever. Though Ray spends half the film hiding out in a shack after the aborted robbery, which makes for a bizarre time-frame, since it appears everything else unfolds over the period of several weeks or even months. I’m not actually sure what purpose his character particularly serves; however, watching Howell play a middle-aged gangsta in a bandana is bizarrely fascinating for some reason.

I was hoping it would all build to some kind of extended brawl through the house, with the lioness defending her cub against a predatory newcomer. It’s not much of a spoiler to say I was almost entirely disappointed, though Jade’s final moments have a poignancy that is surprisingly effective, and quite at odds with the low-key banality that preceded them. For almost everything else found here, is the very definition of workmanlike: largely non-threatening drama, technically solid enough, yet possessing all the bite of a geriatric chihuahua, and delivering about as much threat.

Dir: Doug Campbell
Star: Haylie Duff, Lisa Sheridan, Jason Brooks, C. Thomas Howell

Good Morning, Killer

starstar
“And I still don’t know the significance of the title.”

gmkBased on a 2003 novel of the same name by April Smith, I can’t speak to the novel. but this TV movie doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from… Well, from anything else to be honest; the overall impact here, is of a not-exactly superlative episode of one of those three-letter acronym shows Chris enjoys watching [star Bell was part of one such – JAG]. After a young girl is abducted from a shopping mall, FBI special agent Ana Grey (Bell) and her colleagues have to try and locate the perpetrator, who appears to be a previously-unknown serial predator (Jordan), who kidnaps his victims and rapes them over a period of time, tormenting their families with telephone calls, before releasing the traumatized victims with a chilling reminder, “You won’t forget me.” Meanwhile, Ana is having relationship issues, both with her boyfriend, fellow detective Andrew Berringer (Hauser), and a colleague who doesn’t appear to appreciate the need for intra-departmental loyalty.

It’s hard to know quite where to put the blame for this one, but I think it’s mostly on a poorly-written script that, particularly, in the first half, wanders around without focus. If they had established the characters first, on both sides of the case, they could then have incorporated the relationship stuff, but instead, it feels as if you are supposed to care about these people, before the film has given you any reason to do so. Maybe you are supposed to have read the book first? If so, I didn’t get that particular memo. Perhaps it doesn’t help either that this is based on the second Ana Grey book – the first remains unfilmed – an over-zealous attention to remaining faithful to the source may explain why the makers don’t bother to explain as much as they should about who anyone is.

Bell is competent enough, and the second half of the film is generally an improvement, concentrating more on the case and less on the soap-opera bubbles. In particular, the perp’s fondness for taking pictures of his victims during their ordeals, is a chilling element that comes over well in the film. However, there are some glaring loose ends, such as the fate of the homeless man who is, apparently, a key witness, and the climax, which sees Ana taken hostage by the prime suspect, doesn’t exactly provide a great deal of confidence in her abilities as an FBI agent. It seems to be going for a Silence of the Lambs vibe there; it doesn’t come anywhere close, and you can only presume a great deal was lost in translation from page to screen, given this is part of what appears to be a fairly well-regarded series of books.

Dir: Maggie Greenwald
Star: Catherine Bell, James Jordan, Cole Hauser, Genevieve Buechner

Mutant World

starstarhalf
“Well, it’s no Sharknado 2. It’s not even Sharknado 3.”

mutantworldThis SyFy original movie takes place mostly after an “Earth killer”-sized meteor has struck the Eastern seaboard of the United States. A group of Doomsday preppers, with slightly more warning than most, are able to take shelter inside their refuge, a former missile silo, and settle down to wait out the apocalypse going on above ground. 10 years later, they’re forced to send a small group back up to the surface as the result of damage to their solar panels. Leading that patrol is Melissa King (Deveaux), whose father Marcus (Kim Coates, whom you will recognize if you’re a Sons of Anarchy fan) was the leader of the group, but was trapped outside their sanctuary when the meteor hit. The patrol discovers that the radiation resulting from the impact has wiped out most of humanity – but the survivors have been mutated by it, and turned into thoroughly unpleasant monsters. Exploring further, they find what appears to be sanctuary, populated by other survivors, only to discover that when the sun goes down, they too are no longer human. Fortunately for them, assistance is at hand in the former of the Preacher (Ashanti), a motorcycle riding, warrior-priestess, who appears to be in contact with the actual remnants of mankind.

Oh, dear. The potential is here, but is buried deeper than a nuclear fallout shelter, because there is hardly any aspect that is not badly botched, right from the start: Coates, the only real “name” in the cast, is barely in the film, the kind of bait-and-switch which is rarely a good sign. The script is just terrible: what’s supposed to be a quick mission up top to fix the power, somehow spirals off into a jolly road-trip, with no apparent regard for the people back in the bunker. While the mutants’ glowing green eyes are kinda cool, that is about as far as both the imagination and the budget goes; there’s no explanation provided either, for why some people are totally mutated, some are only mutated at night (!), and others, like the Preacher, are apparently entirely untroubled by mutantism, despite wearing no more protection than a long trench-coat. And don’t even get me started on Ashanti’s performance, which is about as unconvincing as you’d expect from a singer-slash-dancer-slash-whatever.

The film is clearly trying to establish Melissa’s credentials as some kind of a bad-ass, judging by the poorly-choreographed fight she has with the shelter leader, before heading up top [also worth noting: no-one appears to have aged or been changed in the slightest by the passage of a decade, whether underground or on the surface]. Outside of very intermittent moments, it doesn’t work, though in comparison to Ashanti, Coates is positively an Oscar-winner. I did somewhat appreciate the element of role-reversal found here, with the most bad-ass roles given to the actresses. However, good intentions are never enough to overcome execution as horribly flawed as we see here. By the end, I was hoping for another meteor strike, to put both the characters and the viewers out of our mutual misery.

Dir: David Winning
Star: Holly Deveaux, Ashanti, Amber Marshall, Jason Cermak

Big Driver

starstarstarstarhalf
“Lady Vengeance”

bigdriverEasily punching above its weight for a Lifetime TVM, this is as disturbing as you’d expect from the director of the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, working off a Stephen King short story. Crime writer Tess Thorne (Bello) is on her way back from a speaking engagement, when her car gets a puncture; the large gentleman (Harris) who stops to help, turns out to be a savage rapist, who brutalizes Tess repeatedly, before leaving her for dead in a storm-drain, beside his previous victims. Tess survives, but is traumatized by the experience, and won’t tell anyone what happened. Her mind begins to fracture, with the leading character in her book (Dukakis) coming to life and talking to her – as well as the GPS in her car (not credited, but reportedly the voice of King). Digging in, Tess finds that her accident may not have been quite as accidental as she thought, and her quest for vengeance, is going to require a broader net than she initially thought.

It’s the performances which make this work, though the concept is solid enough, containing a number of elements readily identifiable as King staples, e.g. dead people talking. The translation to screen does have its issues; never explained, for example, is how Tess’s disabled car shows up in the parking lot of a biker bar, fully intact and with her possessions inside. Much though the resulting cameo from 80’s rocker Joan Jett is welcome,, it’s a blatant plot hole which should have been addressed. That aside, it’s much grittier than I expected, with the assault in particular pulling so few punches, I have to wonder if the version which played on Lifetime was edited for content compared to this DVD release. Bello does a good job of taking the audience inside the disintegrating mind of Thorne, to the point where we genuinely wondered how much of what we were seeing had a basis in reality, or if it was just a psychological coping mechanism. Dukakis is also excellent, providing a restrained, yet sarcastic counterpoint of commentary to the heroine’s actions, as she falls apart, yet still proceeds with her mission.

Things proceed to a thoroughly adequate conclusion, even allowing for the vast difference in size and strength between Tess and her assailant; if nothing else, guns are certainly a great equalizer! But Tess’s smarts are just as important as her aggression or lust for vengeance, helping her both uncover the truth about what happened, and then ensure that the police don’t track her down after the event. The traumatic experience certainly leaves her a changed person, and probably only right it should; not a journey I’d want anyone I know to experience themselves, but it may indeed be a case of, what does not kill you, makes you stronger.

Dir: Mikael Salomon
Star: Maria Bello, Will Harris, Olympia Dukakis, Stephen King