Sunday, August 2, 2009

Judicial Indiscretion (Ambitious/Insight/Lifetime, 2007)

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

I watched a Lifetime TV-movie I’d recorded the night before, which was billed as its premiere on the network even though claims April 9, 2007 as its release date. The film was Judicial Indiscretion, and it seems to have germinated in the mind of its writer-director, George Mendeluk, as a sort of challenge to himself as to just how far he could push the usual Lifetime “pussy in peril” trope, since it has one of the most outrageous premises ever invented for a film: Monica Barrett (Anne Archer) is a highly respected judge on the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. federal courts (Mendeluk made a mistake in his script here because the “circuits” are actually appeals courts, yet Monica is shown functioning as a first-instance trial judge, presiding over trials and handing out sentences) who’s up for consideration for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just before she’s scheduled to receive word of whether the President (carefully unnamed, and played by Sean Allan in a manner and makeup suggesting that Mendeluk was anticipating that John Edwards would win the 2008 election) is really going to appoint her, she takes a vacation in San Francisco. Her adult daughter Jennifer (Erin Karpluk) is supposed to take the trip with her, but at the last minute Jennifer has to make a big presentation at work and cancels, leaving widow Monica (her husband Paul, Jennifer’s father, died three years before) alone in a strange city and vulnerable to male attractions. Male attractions dutifully appear in the person of a man calling himself “Jack Sullivan” (Michael Shanks), who speaks with a charming Irish brogue, claims to be a writer with a first novel about to come out and an advance on a second, takes her to dinner, drugs her drink, takes her back to her hotel room and rapes her. She comes to naked in her room, and instead of reporting it to the police and preserving the evidence she does what all the stupid rape victims on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit do: she washes herself, practically scrapes off a layer of skin, then sneaks out of town and rejoins her daughter at their home, telling no one about it except her mother and lifelong mentor Victoria (Anna Hagan).

Monica actually gets the Supreme Court appointment and, much to her surprise, wins the support of opposing-party senator Garland Wolf (William B. Davis) even though one of her rulings previously cost him $8 million. She also finds that “Sullivan” is stalking her, and getting into places that indicate he has high-level connections, including getting her cell phone number after she has it changed and turning up in the White House at the press appearance announcing her appointment with a media credential. (Well, the real George W. Bush administration let a male hustler in because he was part of a Republican blog and could be counted on to ask softball questions.) Meanwhile, the White House schedules a nationwide media tour to introduce her to the country and prepare the groundwork for her confirmation, and she’s assigned a minder, Martin Murphy (Matthew Harrison), who picks out her wardrobe (one wonders whether male Supreme Court appointees have to go through this!), coaches her on how to deal with the media and the proper non-answers to give when she’s asked her stands on judicial issues, and generally handles her on her tour.

Inevitably (at least by George Mendeluk’s fiat), her tour takes her to San Francisco, where because of the city’s reputation as being filled with “fruits and nuts” the federal marshals’ office offers her additional protection — and “Sullivan” turns up and claims to have a video of the two of them having sex, which he intends to release to the Internet unless she withdraws immediately. He sends her a DVD copy of the video and she insists that she will not be blackmailed, and then the open question we’ve been wondering about all movie — is he just a free-lance blackmailer or is he doing this as part of a plot masterminded by someone else, and if so, who? — gets answered at last: the whole plot was the handiwork of Senator Wolf, who really wanted the court appointment for someone else but figured that by pretending to support Monica while really hiring someone to ruin her, he could get his revenge against her by driving her from office with scandal and then get his man on the Court.

Wolf’s plan derails when “Sullivan” confronts him in a parked car, tries to blackmail him for more money, then takes away the gun Wolf pulls on him and shoots the Senator, faking the scene to make it look like suicide. Then he invades the hotel where Monica is staying, crashes her room by knocking out her room-service waiter, holds a gun with a silencer on her and demands $100,000 per year from her for life as the price of his silence. The federal marshals who are supposed to be guarding her catch on and break into the room, shooting down the bad guy and in the process obliterating the DVD copy, though the mini-DV original of “Sullivan’s” surreptitiously filmed rape tape survives — and there’s a coda in which Monica says she’s going to resign her appointment anyway rather than participate in a cover-up, her mom persuades her to stay in the fight, and months later she’s survived her confirmation, gets sworn in and presents the whole affair as a “teachable moment” on just how far some people will go to affect the makeup of the Supreme Court.

Despite the risibility of its plot premise and the melodramatic gyrations Mendeluk has to put both his characters and the actors playing them through for his story to work, Judicial Indiscretion is actually a decent piece of filmmaking; Mendeluk manages the wrenching changes in atmosphere quite well and he’s got a better star than usual in Archer, who’s probably most famous as the wife Michael Douglas cheated on with Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and who’s still quite attractive even 22 years later in a role which frankly doesn’t offer her much of a challenge as an actress: all she has to do is look like a woman who’s putting on a composed, collected front while she’s seething with anxiety inside, and maintain that one emotion from the rape scene on to the end.