Friday, February 27, 2009

Not My Life (Cinetel Films/Lifetime, 2006)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The movie was Not My Life, which began as an almost risible parody of a Lifetime TV-movie — heroine Alison Morgan (Meredith Monroe) lives an idyllic, picture-perfect existence with her husband, Dr. Steve Morgan (Ari Cohen, darker-haired than usual for a Lifetime leading man but the usual lanky body type), marred only by her inability to remember her past and a chronic heart condition for which she’s taking a medication her husband obtains for her. All she knows — or thinks she knows — about her past was that her parents abused her, as did her previous husband, and she was rescued from a fire by Dr. Steve, who saved her life but has been unable to have children by her. She has a good friend, Janet (Ellie Harvie — a charmingly reversible name; I could well imagine a male Lifetime actor named “Harvie Ellie”!), whom Steve can’t stand, ostensibly because Janet is an alternative health advocate and Steve feels professionally threatened, especially when Janet questions whether Alison really needs the heart medication and whether something more holistic would work better for her.

Then Alison is involved in an auto accident and the shock injures her brain and allows authentic memories of her past to penetrate her current consciousness, albeit in fragmentary and confused form. Steve tells her that she never had another husband but that the two of them had had a daughter and the daughter had accidentally set the fire in which both she and Alison’s parents died. Alison remains suspicious and she sees another doctor, Jennifer Prasad (Iris Paluly), who examines her and tells her a) she never had a heart condition, b) she’s positive for psychotropic drugs, and c) the so-called “heart medication” her husband has been giving her is actually a version of an anti-schizophrenia drug which someone has made in a basement lab and reformulated to heighten its memory-loss effects. Dr. Prasad also X-rays her and finds that she had a lesion in her brain before the accident and the accident had jogged it loose, thereby restoring at least bits of her memory. When Alison confronts her husband and asks why he’s been drugging her with something to make her forget her past, he tells her that as a result of the fire she went crazy and was about to be institutionalized when he figured out a way to eliminate the memories that were driving her crazy, including giving her a D.I.Y. lobotomy (hence the lesion Dr. Prasad’s X-rays uncovered) and making up the drugs in an amateur lab he set up in a storage locker that also contained press clippings of the fire and a copy of the recommendation for her institutionalization.

Alison, still suspicious, hires Kruegher (Michael Woods), the private detective who handled Janet’s divorce (and who’s shown as a scruffy, overweight, Columbo-like figure just to disillusion anyone in the Lifetime audience whose idea of a private detective was a romantic vision of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe), to tail her husband and also research her own past. Steven offers Kruegher a $10,000 bribe to give him a glowing report, and Kreugher takes the check and uses it to run a fingerprint check — which reveals that Steven is really Dr. Tony Lancaster, who was arrested for selling morphine illegally and then died in an auto accident in the company of a woman named Anna Towne. It turns out that Dr. Lancaster had an obsessive case of the hots for Mrs. Towne, so he kidnapped her away from her husband and daughter, drugged her, deliberately crashed his car so the authorities would assume they had run away together and had died in the crash, then set up shop in another town, lobotomized her, married her and kept her on drugs to keep her from recovering the memory of who she really was and that she already had a family.

There’s a typical over-the-top action sequence at the end in which Dr. Lancaster murders Kreugher with Kreugher’s own gun, only to be killed himself when Anna stabs him with a pitchfork and he falls to his death out of a second-floor window at their ranch home in the country. As far-fetched (to say the least!) as this plot is, writer Paul A. Birkett deserves credit for an interesting and inventive variation on the Gaslight trope, and though C. Kim Miles’ cinematography is pretty typical past-is-brown stuff, director John Terlesky stages it with a real flair for suspense and a welcome avoidance of the “flanging” effects and other computer-generated frou-frou with which a lot of Lifetime directors ruin otherwise perfectly good movies. About the only thing that’s missing is a hot soft-core porn sequence, and this is enough of a nail-biter (as well as one that really allows us to identify with Alison/Anna and her plight) I don’t really mind the loss.