Monday, December 27, 2010

The Perfect Teacher (Lance Entertainment/Lifetime, 2010)

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

I watched a Lifetime movie from a set of six they ran all day yesterday (well, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., anyway) called “The Perfect Sunday” because all but one of the six films had titles starting with “The Perfect … ” and the one that didn’t, the first one, still featured the word “Perfect”: Her Perfect Spouse. The others were The Perfect Assistant, The Perfect Wife, The Perfect Marriage, The Perfect Nanny and the one I watched this morning, The Perfect Teacher. As you might guess, given that this is Lifetime, all of the stories involved a stranger entering the life of a normal man, woman or family and seeming “perfect,” only turning out to be not only considerably less than perfect but positively demented — though instead of what I might have expected, which is a story about a new teacher taking an interest in a particularly troubled student and turning out to be a crazy asshole who just wanted to get into her (or his) pants, in The Perfect Teacher it’s actually the student who’s demented and the teacher, if not perfect, is totally innocent of any pernicious intentions.

The student is Devon Burke (played by Megan Park in a marvelously and deliciously evil manner — it’s true that this is basically Psycho Teenager 101 but she’s still damned good at it), who’s being raised by her wealthy father Donald (Andrew Johnston) following the mysterious death of her mom — at first we’re told it was an accident but later Devon says her mother committed suicide because she could no longer stand being married to her dad. Anyway, Donald has spoiled her daughter rotten in more than one sense of the word, while at the same time bringing home a succession of girlfriends de jour whose very presence pisses off Devon so much that she pours a bit of solvent into the eyeliner of one of them, just to be mean. Though she’s been pampered and given every material thing she could possibly want, from a cool car to a wardrobe that would have made Imelda Marcos drool, she can’t stand her father and she’s looking for an escape.

Her escape — or at least she thinks it in her demented mind — shows up at a school dance as a chaperone, and turns out to be Jim Wilkes (David Charvet, tall and lanky in the best Lifetime leading-man tradition but a bit better-looking than most of them — he gets to flash a nice, if not drop-dead impressive, basket in one sequence), who’s just been hired to teach trigonometry and coach volleyball. Devon immediately gets the hots for Jim, at first just for the kinky thrill of seducing a teacher but later because she really thinks she’s in love with him and he’s her destined deliverer. Jim, it turns out, has a pretty messy life of his own: he’s got a daughter, Annique (Keeva Lynk), whom he dotes on, though he divorced Annique’s mother Marissa (Judith Baribeau) two years or so earlier — one can’t imagine why, since in their scenes together they seem comfortable and still in love — and she’s gone on to make a major career for herself at a large corporation that wants to appoint her assistant CEO and move her to San Diego. When she insists that she’s going to take Annique with her when she relocates, Jim is devastated — and when she points out that San Diego has teaching jobs, too (though given the way the San Diego school budget is being eviscerated I’m not sure that’s true anymore!), he says he doesn’t want to move 3,000 miles away (it’s not clear where this takes place until the ending reveals it’s in Pennsylvania, though the Keystone State is “played” by Ottawa, Canada as is typical in Lifetime movies) because he’s already dating someone else, fellow teacher Rachel (played by an actress with the ludicrously improbable name “Boti Bliss”) and she doesn’t want to leave Wherever, Pennsylvania because she’s got a sick mother she’s looking after when she’s not teaching.

For about an hour of running time Devon tries every stratagem she can think of to seduce Jim, from getting hired as his assistant coach (which gives her access to his keys, which she has duplicated, leading to a delightfully kinky scene in which she’s hiding upstairs in his house while he’s fucking Rachel downstairs) to buying (with her dad’s money) a whole sushi meal for him and the entire volleyball team when they go out-of-town for a game, to showing up at his hotel room in the wee hours and complaining that her boyfriend has just broken up with her. When Devon decides that the reason she can’t have Jim is that his ex-wife is about to move to San Diego and he’s going to follow her so he can continue to have a relatively normal relationship with his daughter, she decides to take care of the problem by running the ex-wife down with her SUV, killing her. Then, when Devon shows up in scanty clothes at Jim’s house one night and finally comes on to him and declares her undying love, Jim tells her it’s all been a misunderstanding and she says, “I can be your best dream — or your worst nightmare.”

She exacts her revenge in the most obvious way either screenwriter Christine Conradt (whose name appears on so many of these productions she should probably be considered Lifetime’s principal auteur) or the audience could think of: she claims that Jim raped her on that out-of-town trip, and immediately Donald Burke pulls strings to have him suspended from school as well as arrested and charged with the crime — only that’s not good enough for Devon: she also kidnaps Jim’s daughter Annique, saying that the girl will be released unharmed if Jim will meet her privately. Jim pretends to go along with her demand that he pair up with her, she admits that she made up the rape charge, and then the police show up with Jim’s lawyer, who set the whole thing up, having him leave his cell phone on speaker function so the whole thing was broadcast to the cops and they now know that Devon, not Jim, was the real culprit and, what’s more, she’s confessed to murdering Jim’s ex-wife. In the final scene Devon is in a juvenile correction facility being interviewed by a young, hot-looking psychiatrist and is scheming about how she can seduce him.

If you can take the over-intense melodramatics typical of Conradt’s scripts, The Perfect Teacher is actually good guilty fun, directed by Jim Donovan with an effective use of suspense editing and a refreshing absence of some of the tricks other Lifetime directors have used to ramp up the intensity level of Conradt’s scripts from the 11 they were at when she pushed her computer’s “print” button to 15 or even 20. It’s also surprisingly well acted all around, though Boti Bliss (despite the charm of her real name) seems decidedly too mousy, both in looks and in personality, to win the heart of an attractive, young (he’s described as 34) man who’s already been married to one hot blonde and is currently being cruised by another.