Monday, April 5, 2010

cyber seduction: His Secret Life (Jaffe-Braunstein/Lifetime, 2005)

by Mark Gabrish Conla • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran a feature I’d encountered when I recorded it from Lifetime yesterday: cyber seduction: His Secret Life (the use of lower-case for the first two words obviously inspired by the conventions of computer nomenclature), which is basically your standard-issue high-school kid’s addiction movie except for the novelty of what he’s addicted to: Internet porn. Justin Petersen (Jeremy Sumpter) is a sophomore at a high school in the typically unnamed generic Lifetime suburban neighborhood, and he’s enough of a star swimmer (one of the few branches of athletics we’d actually believe a kid as scrawny as the tow-headed twinkie Sumpter would be good at) to have made All-State (I’m not sure exactly what it means but it’s obviously supposed to indicate that he’s good) when one of his friends sends him an e-mail directing him to the “Monica’s Web” site.

Justin has been dating a good little church-going girl named Amy (Lyndsy Fonseca) but he’s getting a bad case of blue balls because, though Amy isn’t exactly saying that she’s not going to give up her virginity until the wedding night, she does insist that the first time she has sex it has to be “special.” Meanwhile Monica, the school’s “fast” girl (played by an actress with the rather appropriate name Nicole Dicker), is going with the B.M.O.C., Nolan Mitchell (Michael Seater, who quite frankly did a good deal more for me aesthetically than the rather twerpy hero!) but is also giving Justin the eye — and once he sees her Web site (this is a Lifetime movie so naturally we’re not going to see much, but we get enough — and hear about the rest in the dialogue — that we get the idea) he’s hooked not only on her site but Internet porn in general, finding sites with names like Big Breasted Women and Teen Age Sluts (and even going far enough afield from these rather vanilla sites to get on one called Latex Bondage, which eventually earns him the unwanted nickname “Leatherboy” from his classmates).

In the space of a commercial break or two he’s on the computer every waking moment he can steal away and avoid the seemingly constant surveillance of his parents Diane (Kelly Lynch, hot as ever and looking like she could give all the actresses playing high-school girls here lessons in “sexy”) and Richard, as well as his younger (10 years old) brother Alex (Jake Scott). These people, especially his folks, are so good at spying on him and popping into his room at the most embarrassing possible moment that when the parents start complaining about financial difficulties and how they’re working too hard on their jobs, one’s tempted to suggest that they could solve all their money worries simply by applying for jobs with the CIA. Anyway, cyber seduction timidly goes where thousands of addiction stories have gone before, as Justin’s all-nighters at the Internet porn sites (and the dietary regimen of energy drinks — which for a while seem to be the only sustenance he has) plunge not only his academic grades but his performance in the pool deeper into the abyss, though ironically director Tom McLoughlin (best known for Friday the 13th, Part 6: Jason Lives, though he’s done a number of relatively interesting Lifetime movies including Odd Girl Out, The Staircase Murders and Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal) and writers Wesley Bishop and Richard Kletter keep Justin at least technically a virgin through to the end of the film: he tries with Amy while they’re supposedly doing homework together and she repulses his move, leading him to flee in disgust; then he wangles a date with Monica (by then his parents have cut him off from Internet access but he’s got on the porn sites anyway, first by hacking into the school library’s computer and disabling its blocking software and then by stealing his mom’s credit card number — whose first block of digits has five instead of four, obviously so they wouldn’t risk using someone’s real credit card number — and logging on at a convenience store’s public computer) and comes over to her place — only he decides that he wants to lose his virginity in a “special” context rather than with someone so readily, shall we say, “accessible” — and when he leaves her place he pushes her away and injures her (we’re not sure what happens but we see her bleeding from a cut in her forehead).

He gets into a confrontation with his parents — he was supposed to be at Amy’s studying and he got “outed” when she called his home to ask where he was — and eventually Nolan and a friend of his beat him up and he goes to the high school, prepared to drown himself in the swimming pool — only he sees his entire life, including the good (pre-porn addiction) parts, flash before his eyes, and he decides to live, seek therapy and give us the obligatory happy endings. There are a lot of felicitous touches in cyber seduction — from the fade-outs to blue (both the color of the swimming pool’s water and the color of an unused computer screen) and the point-of-view shots of Justin’s female classmates to indicate he's starting to objectify them and see them like he sees the Internet porn models, to the clever scene in which Diane Petersen is trying to install the “BLOXXX” software program on Justin’s computer, she can’t figure out the instructions and Alex has to help her. I also liked the scene when Justin arrives at Monica’s place and is surprised at the elaborate décor — to which she replies, “I’ll bet you thought I was just a cheap slut from a low-rent district.” (I came up with a comeback for him: “No, I thought you were a cheap slut from a high-rent district.”) But those occasional moments of creativity couldn’t make up for the well-worn paths trod by most of this movie — even though at least McLoughlin’s direction was straightforward and avoided the digital “flanging” and other cheap tricks with which other Lifetime directors have marred their works — and there wasn’t even any interesting soft-core porn to offer us bits of the titillation Justin was supposedly jeopardizing his grades, his athletics, his family, his girlfriend and ultimately his life to seek on the Net!