Friday, October 21, 2011

The Perfect Roommate (Capital Productions, Thrill Films, Lifetime, 2011)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a Lifetime movie from my backfiles, The Perfect Roommate, a 2011 production (not to be confused with another film called The Perfect Roommate from this year, a theatrical film written and directed by one Kash Sen, with a quite different plot, summarized on thusly: “Fed up with her selfish, materialistic, shallow boyfriend V. J., Anita decides to kick him out. But she needs to find a roommate fast to help her pay her mortgage. So, with the help of her best friend Ratana, she sets out to find that person. Will she find the perfect roommate? Or is she going to end up with more than she bargained for?”) that’s the latest in the series of “Perfect … ” scripts written by Christine Conradt in which the heroine seems to have found the perfect husband, nanny, teacher, roommate, whatever, only to discover that “perfect” actually means “psycho.” In this one the patsy is Ashley Dunnfield (Ashley Leggat), who’s working as a waitress at a mid-scale restaurant where her boyfriend Matt Wilson (Jon McLaren) is a bartender.

There’s a prologue whose relevance to the rest of the movie only becomes apparent much later: Marty Remington (Peter Dillon) is arrested in the middle of the night by two shaved-headed policeman who accuse him of murdering a woman — a prostitute with whom he’d been a regular client ­— while lurking sinisterly in the background is his wife Carrie (Boti Bliss, who got to play the good girl to Megan Park’s bad girl in a previous Conradt production, The Perfect Teacher, and now gets a shot at the bad girl herself — I still think her name sounds more like a Buddhist blessing than a human being, but she does Psycho 101 quite well even though Barbara Stanwyck was playing roles like this, and playing them far better, before Ms. Bliss’s mother was born). Then, after a title reading “Eleven Months Later” (a bit of a surprise because usually Lifetime movies begin with a “grabber” prologue and then a flashback rather than a flash-forward), the scene cuts to the restaurant where Carrie has hired on as a waitress, and she, Ashley and Matt are at a table doing a can-you-top-this? game in which Ashley whines about her super-rich but relentlessly overprotective and nagging father Richard (William R. Moses), Matt mentions how he has to take care of his disabled brother Ethan (I can’t be sure who played him because mistakenly credited the performance to a woman, actress Christie Watson, unless we’re supposed to believe that’s some really fantastic FTM drag — a pity because whoever he is, he’s the hottest guy in the film!), and Carrie tops them both by saying she’d been living with a man named Frank after going through a bitter divorce but he was just killed in a car accident, leaving her broke and about to be homeless.

Ashley, who’s renting her own place so she doesn’t have to live (and put up) with her dad — he’s described as having an ex-girlfriend, Paula Wickless (Teresa Donovan), who’s recently moved back to Anywhere, U.S.A. (played, typically for Lifetime, by Anywhere, Canada) from Atlanta and who seems interested in not being quite so “ex,” but we’re never told what happened to Ashley’s mom — invites Carrie to move in with her. Only later do we find out that the whole plot is a scheme hatched by Carrie and her childhood friend Anna Prieto (Cinthia Burke) to get their hands on a rich man’s fortune. Their first attempt came when they married Carrie off to Marty Remington, then killed his prostitute girlfriend and framed him for the crime, only to discover after he was sentenced to life for the killing that he’d run through his entire fortune and they were unable to take over his business, as they had planned, because he was so deeply in debt the banks seized it. So Carrie divorced Marty and they started looking for a new pigeon, and as soon as Ashley innocently told her co-worker about her rich dad the decision was made.

Carrie gets herself invited into Richard’s life — and, ultimately, his bed — after they meet in the hospital where Ashley has been taken; it seems that Ashley is deathly allergic to all seafood, and Carrie found this out by rummaging through Ashley’s papers, spiked her Mexican takeout with Asian fish sauce, tossed out her antidote medicine and replaced it with water, waited for her to go into convulsions and then called 911, claiming to have saved her life instead of nearly destroying it. Paula’s ongoing interest in Richard is taken care of by Anna, who works as a cabdriver and arranges to take Paula to the airport — she was planning to fly back to Atlanta, close her house there and move back to Wherever this takes place — only she really takes her to a deserted road under an overpass and shoots her, and the body isn’t discovered until a homeless person (sort of like the guest body finders on Law and Order) finds it several commercial breaks later. By this time Richard and Carrie are in the middle of a full-blown affair that looks altar-bound, while Ashley is putting together the evidence of Carrie’s actual past — she talks to Carrie’s former brother-in-law Roland (Tim Finnigan) and then tries to reach her dad with the information while he’s having a nice romantic weekend with Carrie at a fancy hotel near the beachfront development he’s building there.

Only Carrie intercepts all Ashley’s messages — just why Ashley didn’t call her boyfriend, or her boyfriend’s ex-cop brother, or the police themselves, instead of trying to reach her dad directly, and why she never thought that Carrie might be able to prevent her dad from getting Ashley’s messages, are bits of typical female-in-peril stupidity without which virtually all Lifetime movies could never get stretched out to feature length — and when Ashley, driving up to see her dad in person, gets stranded at a gas station after her radiator blows, it’s Carrie who comes out to meet her and attempts to kill her with a broken beer bottle, only she’s caught by the genuine police (how did they find out? I guess we’re meant to think Matt tipped them off — earlier Ashley had told him where she was going and Matt had pleaded with her to wait until his shift was over and they could go together, but of course she was too stupid to do that either!), arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, while Marty Remington’s conviction is set aside, Ashley and her dad are reunited, aspiring painter Matt gets a commission to supply original art for 17 of Richard’s hotels (so the son-in-law to be also rises!) and the scene then cuts to Carrie in her cell, scanning a magazine profile of yet another rich man she intends to hunt after she gets out.

Despite the plot holes and occasional silliness, The Perfect Roommate is actually a quite entertaining, engaging neo-noir and Boti Bliss, despite the absurdity of her name and her gamine-like quality (she’s cute and perky rather than drop-dead gorgeous, though somehow that just makes the plot that much more interesting), is quite good in the role even though most of the reviewers ripped her. The director is Curtis Crawford, who blessedly restrains himself and doesn’t add flanges, music-video cuts or other unwelcome bits of stylization that would have just highlighted the melodramatic excesses of Conradt’s script, and the acting is quite good all around, though Cinthia Burke and Teresa Donovan look enough like each other the only reliable way you can tell them apart (until one kills the other) is through the marvelous hard-set expression Burke gets to tell us that she’s evil.