Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cheaters’ Club (Chesler/Perlmutter Productions/Lifetime, 2006)

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

I ran the movie Cheaters’ Club, a 2006 production that seemed to promise a lot of soft-core porn and other sleazy fun. The central premise: a woman psychiatrist, Roberta “Bobbie” Adler (Wendy Anderson), runs both a private practice and a group-therapy session open exclusively to married women with problems with their relationships. She also hosts a local talk-radio show that’s growing in popularity, and the message of both her talk show and her therapy is that a woman has the absolute right to a fulfilling sex life, and if she can’t get that from her husband she not only has the right but the duty to herself to find alternate partners who can satisfy her.

There are three patients in her group: high-powered attorney Meredith Glass (Krista Bridges), who’s basically turned her spouse Eric (Jeff Pangman) into an emasculated house-husband since he lost his job and she became the family’s sole breadwinner; real estate broker Cindy Hartford (Katya Gardner), blonde (the only one of the four female principals who isn’t dark-haired) and seemingly the most level-headed of the bunch; and Linda Stern (the improbably named Charisma Carpenter), who as the film opens announces to the group that she’s just yielded to their social pressure and had her first affair, with a man named Kyle (Andrew Kraulis) who’s easily the hottest guy in the movie — slightly built, wiry, butch, with a page-boy haircut and a short beard. Certainly he’s better looking than the paramours of the others: Paolo Abruzzi (Chris Violette) is a blankly handsome young graduate student who’s the fuck buddy first of Meredith and then of Bobbie; Tony Armstrong (Rogue Johnston) is the vaguely racially mixed escort Meredith hires after Bobbie seduces Paolo away from her; and the man we see Cindy with, her high-school sweetheart Alex (or at least we think it’s him), who jilted her after he got her pregnant, forcing her to marry her husband David just so her kid would have a father, is as typical a Lifetime “type” — sandy-haired, lanky, decent-looking but nothing special — as you could imagine, much like the actors playing the other husbands, Eric, Benny Stern (Luke Murdoch) and Robert Adler (James Gilpin).

The film opens with its title scratched out in letters, as if written with a key on the side of a car door, against a backdrop of surveillance photos; and for the first 20 minutes it’s the sort of raunchy fun its synopsis advertised. Then it takes a turn into thriller-dom as both Bobbie and Paolo are murdered — she stabbed 20 times, he once, indicating that the killer was more pissed off at her than him — and the case is assigned to Detective Rollins (Kate Trotter), a bull-dyke who doesn’t seem to have a first name and comes off as so strongly Lesbian one expects her to make passes at the members of the Cheaters’ Club and convince them that all the trouble they’re in is the result of their dating (or marrying) men. Meredith is dead set against the members of the club having anything to do with Rollins or anyone else from the police — she’s fearful of being exposed and having her emasculated house-husband (whom we see in only one scene but who comes off more like a character in a Faith Baldwin story from the 1930’s than someone we’d expect to see in a modern movie!) leave her and take their kids with them — but Linda ultimately levels with Rollins after Meredith has a hissy-fit at one of the three women’s lunch dates and threatens to kill either of the others if they cooperate with the law.

Meredith gets fired after a videotape of her and Tony having at it gets e-mailed to everyone in her law firm and every potential client and every judge in the court system, and as if that wasn’t a bad enough day for her, she also gets arrested for the murders (by then Tony has also been found dead — he had been approached online by the killer to plant a camera in his bedroom and film one of Meredith’s trysts, only when the killer came back for the tape, Tony got stabbed as well). Meanwhile, Linda — who had Dr. Adler’s PDA on her when the doctor was killed (the doc had mistakenly slipped it into Linda’s purse instead of her own) — has been reading Dr. Adler’s therapy notes and realizes that Cindy is the real killer: she made up the story about Alex.

Eventually we learn not only Cindy’s guilt but her motive: “Kyle,” the man Linda was having her affair with, was really David Hartford, Cindy’s husband, and Cindy — an unbalanced woman with a previous history of mental hospitalizations — decided to take revenge by killing not only Linda but everyone connected with the group, starting with the doctor who had encouraged Linda to have the affair with Cindy’s husband in the first place. Though no great shakes as drama and marred by the usual improbabilities, Cheaters’ Club is actually a quite good thriller, suspensefully directed by Steve DiMarco (who’s several cuts above the usual Lifetime directors in his flair for exciting action) from a difficult-to-believe but otherwise good script by Kevin Commins and Camilla Carr and maintaining its excitement until a climax that’s action-packed but at least (within the context of this story) believable — and there’s quite a lot of Lifetime’s usually hot soft-core porn as well!