Friday, December 31, 2010

The Perfect Marriage (Perfect Productions, S.V. Thrilling Movies 2 Inc., Lifetime, 2006)

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

It’s been a long morning. I spent much of it watching a movie on TV: The Perfect Marriage, one of the Lifetime “Perfect” TV-movies they showed all day last Sunday, all of them dealing with a person who seems to be “perfect” but in fact has an evil, scheming heart under their positive surface. This film opens with an illicit couple in bed together: the woman is Marianne Danforth a.k.a. Annie Grayson (Jamie Luner) and the man is a hot stud named Brent Richter (James Wilder), though through at least part of the movie he goes by the name “Christopher.” At first it seems like Double Indemnity with the genders reversed — he’s trying to persuade her to murder her husband and it seems like she’s going to go along with it out of sexual thrall to him (and James Wilder is the sort of hot stud — dark-haired, baby-faced, great hair, nice bod and big basket — Lifetime seems to cast only as villains), but the film then goes into a flashback and it turns out Marianne and Brent are old-time partners in crime — they married her off to a man they later killed before and netted a quarter of a million dollars, though he blew all but about $10,000 of it (it’s not specified how but it’s hinted that he gambled — we do find out that Marianne’s father was a compulsive gambler and it seems that Lifetime’s writers, ever-reliable Christine Conradt and the collaborator, “K. Taylor,” she had on this one, though Mr./Ms. Taylor’s only other credit is as “zombie wrangler” on the 2008 film Mutant Vampire Zombies from the 'Hood!, are hinting that she fell for a boy just like the boy that married dear old mom).

She’s hooked her partner in the supposedly “perfect marriage,” Richard Danforth (William R. Moses, who looks like a large middle-aged teddy bear — though he’s supposed to be playing a patsy in someone else’s crime plot, he’s unusually weak even by the standards of a Lifetime leading man), the son of a major real-estate developer, Donald Danforth (Lawrence Dane), who’s on the point of getting a multi-million dollar project approved and all he needs is the Philadelphia City Council (like The Perfect Teacher, this is set in Pennsylvania but Philadelphia is actually “played” by a city in Canada — Ottawa) and the Environmental Protection Agency. As I said before, at first Marianne appears to be an innocent victim of Brent’s sexual charms but later it turns out that even though he abandoned her in California after their last joint crime, he’s able to seduce her (physically and psychologically) back into his plot, though we’re also supposed to believe she hooked the Danforths on her own.

For someone who’s supposed to be an experienced criminal, though, she leaves a trail a mile wide; two of Richard’s office assistants, Tia Montgomery (Sophie Gendron) — who had an unrequited crush on him and was pissed that he married Marianne instead following the death of his first wife (though it’s not implied that Marianne knocked off his first wife — apparently she just died) — and Carrie Hollings (Lisa Langlois). Carrie catches Marianne in a lie — she said she was going to a meeting at the Hansen Gallery but Carrie knows from her brother, who works there, that it was closed for renovation and so she follows Marianne to her real errand, a bar called Grace O’Malley’s where she regularly meets Brent — only Marianne spots her in the bar, calls Brent on her cell phone, and he picks up on his and dispatches Carrie in the parking lot, killing her with a knife and making it look like a robbery gone bad. Marianne is in the Danforth home alone with her father-in-law when, in a scene Conradt and Taylor obviously ripped off from Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, the old man suddenly has a heart attack and Marianne briefly considers letting him die by denying him the medication he needs to survive, but later she gives it to him and calls 911 just in time, and when Brent chews her out for not letting him die, Marianne points out that she needs the old man alive long enough to pull strings at the EPA to get the big development approved and therefore swell the size of the fortune they’re going to inherit when they knock off both Danforths.

Marianne ultimately gives her father-in-law the fatal injection of potassium chloride Brent procured for her to use for that purpose — the opening scene turns out to be a “cheat” since she appeared to be giving her husband the injection and doing it in bed, when the victim is actually her husband’s father and he’s awake but in a wheelchair when he’s killed. Only Tia has heard from Carrie’s brother and learns where Carrie’s body was found, and from that information she puts together the truth and goes after Marianne — who in the meantime murders Brent in the guise of seducing him because she never forgave him for abandoning her back in California in the backstory — and they confront each other in a parking lot after Tia arranged to pick up Richard at the airport following a business trip, during which time she intended to brief him on the evidence that his wife was a murderess. Marianne calls her husband and finds out Tia has arranged to pick him up, and she traces Tia to a parking garage and goes after her with a knife — intending, she says, to make it look like “a carjacking gone wrong” — only Tia gets away in time because Marianne is run down by a van pulling out of the parking garage and dies.

There’s an ambiguous epilogue in which Richard announces that he’s promoting Tia to a partnership in the firm and then takes her to dinner and, over drinks, proposes to her — and there’s a weird little smirk on Sophie Gendron’s face that might or might not have been intended to signal that Richard is now in mortal danger from her, though that’s pushing the melodrama to a level even Christine Conradt and the director, her frequent collaborator Douglas Jackson, weren’t likely to go to. The Perfect Marriage is actually a nice, suspenseful entertaining movie, a typical piece of Lifetime trash but at least a fun typical piece of Lifetime trash — and the aesthetics of James Wilder’s body, especially in the substantial amounts of time director Jackson allows us to see it partially unclad, just add to its appeal.