Friday, July 2, 2010

Cradle of Lies (Breakthrough/Blueprint/Lifetime, 2006)

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

I ran myself a Lifetime movie I’d recorded last month: Cradle of Lies, a 2006 thriller directed by Oley Sassone (a man, in case you were wondering; he was also known as Francis “Oley” Sassone and there was a rumor he was the son of Vidal Sassoon and Beverly Adams, but he wasn’t; the only other man I can think of named “Oley” with a “y“ was Oley Speakes, who composed the most famous musical setting of Rudyard Kipling’s “On the Road to Mandalay”) from a script he co-wrote with David DuBos, in which divorcée Haley (Shannon Sturges) meets widower Jack Collins (Dylan Neal) at a seaside resort and, after a whirlwind courtship, marries him. She’s a vice-principal at a school who misses her days as a teacher; he’s an attorney whose firm is about to merge with another, larger one and make him a partner in the process; and he has a changeable personality that makes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seem like a well-rounded and consistent person by comparison.

One minute he’ll be all smiles, seductive gestures and hot sex; the next he’ll either be staying away from home for long periods on what he says are work sessions or picking maniacal fights with her over trivial issues. He’s also obsessed with her having a child, and quite specifically a son; Haley and her friends attribute that merely to the usual male “thing” of wanting someone to continue his “name” after he’s gone. But he’s got a more ulterior motive for his madness, and though Sassone and DuBos intended this to be a surprise midway through Lifetime’s trailer for the show gave it away: it seems that Jack’s eccentric grandfather wrote a will leaving him $50 million, but if and only if he fathered a son by a legally married wife before the grandfather’s death. (Otherwise the money goes to charity.)

At the start of the story Jack figures the grandfather has about five years left in him, but meanwhile granddad’s health takes a turn for the worse and the sinister people who are meeting with him to brief him about the old man’s condition — including a guy named Arnold Golding (R. D. Reid) who seems to be the mastermind of some sinister plot in which Jack Collins is as much victim as perpetrator — and Jack is now informed that he has to father his son within a year. Haley duly gets pregnant, goes in for ultrasound in the second trimester, and is told by her doctor, “I think it’s a girl” — and when she breaks the news to hubby that their first child will be female he goes into a tizzy because he’s done the math and realizes he can’t get her pregnant again and have the required boy within his grandfather’s literal deadline. What’s more, it emerges still later that he didn’t get her pregnant at all: his first wife died in a car crash and was not pregnant when she croaked, as he told Haley, but they had had sex recently enough that his semen was still inside her, and the cops tested it (why?) and found it infertile.

It turns out that what Jack actually did was get Haley drunk and have his friend Roy Miller (Landy Cannon) date-rape her — and, what’s more, he filmed the whole thing even though a) one would think the last thing Jack would want was documentary evidence that the child wasn’t biologically his, and b) in the 21st century a control freak like Jack’s grandfather would almost certainly have instructed the executors of his will to order DNA tests to make sure the baby was biologically a Collins. It gets even sillier as Jack starts an affair with his secretary, Michelle Fox (Natalie Brown), and contacts a crook he knows to order a hit man to kill Haley — apparently his plot is to get rid of his wife faster than the divorce courts could (though he tries that too, accusing her of adultery when in fact he’s been the unfaithful one, and she strikes back by taking all the money out of their joint account and putting it into one that has only her name on it, changing the locks on his house and driving around in his black Cadillac), then marry Michelle and set her up to have “his” baby with another man’s help (this sounds like a bizarre blend of The Barefoot Contessa and The Handmaid’s Tale) the way he’d previously done with Haley — only Haley picks that morning to hand the black Cadillac over to Michelle and the hit man, who’s been given the description and the license number of the car and instructed to kill the woman driving it, murders Michelle instead of Haley.

The two white detectives on the case figure Haley set Michelle up to be killed out of jealousy, but their African-American supervisor — a hot-looking actor named Martin Roach saddled with the unattractive and unwittingly racist last name “Buck” — figures the husband had wanted his wife dead and his mistress got killed by mistake. Just before he’s about to arrest Jack, Detective Buck places a call to Arnold Golding — suggesting that he’s in on the plot and there are more motives and more conspiracies than we’ve been told about heretofore — and it ends with Jack in custody in an orange jumpsuit, being told by Detective Buck that the hit man was captured and turned state’s evidence against him and he will therefore be executed for the crime; and in a final scene that was obviously intended as a wrenching O. Henry-style twist ending but falls flat because Sassone and DuBos can’t write a clear and unambiguous scene to save their lives, Haley is shown in a hospital, giving birth to her child — who’s a boy after all! — and signing for the $50 million fortune which she, as Jack’s legal wife and therefore sole heir, inherits: $30 million in a trust fund held until baby Matthew Ryan Collins becomes an adult, and $20 million that’s all hers. Apparently we were supposed to believe that Haley knew about the inheritance all along (how?) and was plotting on her own to lie about the sex of her baby, set up hubby for a murder charge and grab the money — though the writing is ambiguous enough it’s not clear that is how it’s supposed to turn out, and well before the ending we’ve lost any sympathy we might have had for either of these people.

The real shame of Cradle of Lies is that it’s one of those annoying Lifetime movies that with stronger writing, direction and acting could have been considerably better: the central premise is intriguing and a worthy theme for a thriller (even though it’s so old Aristophanes might have rejected it as hackneyed and it had long since been used for a comedy masterpiece, Buster Keaton’s 1926 film Seven Chances, which itself had been remade in 1999 with Chris O’Donnell as The Bachelor) but the writing here is maddeningly vague about key plot points — and not vague in a way that suggests deliberate ambiguity, but vague in a way that just suggests sloppy writing. The casting doesn’t help either; Dylan Neal is your typical tall, lanky, sandy-haired Lifetime leading man (and Landy Cannon looks enough like him one suspects Jack recruited Roy for this part because they resembled each other physically enough that he could pass Roy’s son off as his) and Shannon Sturges doesn’t look like a 40-year-old who starts looking younger when she’s in the first flush of love with her new husband (that’s what the script tells us) but like a 40-year-old who’s desperately trying to look younger and failing miserably — as shown in the film’s best scene, in which she goes shopping for cosmetics in a high-end store and a character identified in the cast list only as “Snippy Sales Girl” (Anastasia Phillips, who turns in by far the best performance in the film even though she’s only in this one scene!) advises her that she shouldn’t buy the tube of whatever-it-is but should select a cream in a jar that’s more suited to someone of her more “sophisticated” age — and Haley responds by trashing the store (such a surprise given her previously level-headed character one wonders if her husband has been feeding her drugs that would cause her to exhibit mercurial behavior and thereby lend credibility to his attempt to divorce her on the ground that she’s mentally ill) and getting herself arrested.

A potentially good film that goes horribly wrong in the execution is generally much more frustrating than an out-and-out piece of crap, and Cradle of Lies is no exception to that rule.