Monday, September 20, 2010

Live Once, Die Twice (Anne Carlucci Productions, J. B. Media, Power/Lifetime, 2006)

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

The film was Live Once, Die Twice, made in 2006 by Anne Carlucci Productions in association with J. B. Media and Power (it seems that no movie, no matter how small, can be made by just one company anymore), which had the makings of a potentially good thriller if the screenwriter, John Benjamin Martin, had known how to keep his story within at least the thin bounds of plausibility instead of throwing us so many wrenching curveballs that it was hard to keep suspending disbelief over and over again every time Martin wanted us to. The film opens with a scene inside a metal works, with some sort of molten metal being poured into molds and turned into ingots, though what metal we’re dealing with and the significance of this whole thing is not made clear until later.

We then meet contented suburban housewife Nicole Lauker (Kellie Martin) and her husband Evan (Martin Cummins) in the throes of a hot sexual encounter — the sort of soft-core porn sequence that makes a lot of Lifetime’s movies worth watching even if they aren’t especially interesting otherwise (and Cummins is medium-height and sandy-haired but is a lot hunkier than the norm for a Lifetime leading man). As far as Nicole knows, Evan is a commercial real-estate broker and his job requires him to do a lot of traveling and be out of town at least half of every year. Just then he’s scheduled to go on a fishing trip with his buddies Daniel Dagan (Edward Yankie) and George Bobich (Wladyslaw Padowicz). She shows up at the dock trying to make a half-assed attempt to get them to take her with them — Evan says ”it’s a guy thing” and refuses — and Nicole briefly wonders why they don’t seem to have packed any bait when they’re supposedly going fishing, and instead virtually everything they’ve packed is beer — that and a mysterious cooler whose contents are so heavy Nicole says, “What have you got in this thing — lead?”

Then Nicole receives word that Evan and George (Dan called in to say he’d been in an “accident” and bailed on the trip at the last minute) have presumably been killed when their boat exploded, and after that she starts getting attention from the FBI, in the form of a pair of African-American agents, one male (Danny Blanco Hall) and one female (Millie Tresierra) — though severely butch and with her hair cut shorter than her partner’s — who are convinced that her husband was part of a criminal conspiracy and so was she. Nicole also gets visited by Dan, who tells her that her husband was in a criminal conspiracy — not drugs, as the police and FBI couple have been hinting, but smuggling platinum, and the people who hired Evan to smuggle it are going to be after her because they’d just entrusted him with $5 million worth of the stuff and they’re going to want either him, the platinum or the money. Shortly thereafter Dan is murdered — he’s found decapitated — and it becomes clear that Evan faked his own death to get away from the thugs, who kidnap Nicole and take him to the room where they tortured and killed Dan but release her because they think if they kill her they’ll never get back the platinum.

Nicole finds among her husband’s effects a letter addressed to a man in Detroit, and giving the FBI agents the slip — she has her best friend Lucy (Sadie LeBlanc) disguise herself as her and take her car and credit cards to Washington, D.C. — she makes her way to Detroit, where she finds a former stripper, Zoë Ravena (Cindy Sampson),whose husband, Luke Ravena, turns out to be the same person as Evan — indeed, as Nicole soon discovers, the two aliases are anagrams of each other. Zoë recommends that they hire a friend of hers, Earl “Mac” MacDuff (Bruce Gray), an ex-cop turned bounty hunter, to help them find Evan — and they eventually do, running him down in Canada (where he’s fled and assumed yet a third alias that’s an anagram of the other two) and setting up a final shoot-out on Evan’s boat — Evan, in screenwriter Martin’s last and most ridiculous plot contrivance, has convinced Nicole that he’s really an agent of the State Department who infiltrated a ring of platinum smugglers to bring them to book — Evan nearly kills Zoë and does kill Mac before Nicole shoots him with a dart from a miniature harpoon gun (I’m not making this up, you know!).

Live Once, Die Twice is a thriller with real potential, directed with quite good suspense chops by Stefan Pleszczynski and quite well acted (the performances are well above the Lifetime norm) but hamstrung by the sheer unlikelihood of the plot gimmicks with which Martin larded his script; just when we’re in a nice thriller groove and really feeling for the characters and their perils, he throws in a weird twist that plunges our suspension of disbelief back down to zero. Still, it’s a workmanlike film and it’s fun in a cheesy, dorky way.