Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Adopting Terror (Global Asylum/Lifetime, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was a Lifetime production, recently premiered last Saturday, called Adopting Terror, an intense and rather confusing melodrama which has two pages listed on, one a pre-production page that does not identify it as a TV-movie ­— were they hoping for a theatrical release and sold it to Lifetime when they didn’t get one? — and one a post-release page but one which doesn’t identify many of the actors, including star Sean Astin, John Astin’s son. The plot: Tim Broadbent (Sean Astin, a stocky guy of medium height who doesn’t really look that much like his dad, John Astin of The Addams Family) and his wife Cheryl (who appears to have been played by Kristen Quintrall — the pages list her character as “Nikki” and this suggests a last-minute script revision by writers Micho Rutare, who also directed, and Nik Frank-Lehrer) adopt a few-months-old baby who’s been in state custody.

They do this through something called the Community First Adoption Agency, headed by Dr. Ziegler (Michael Gross), and the social worker assigned to the case to supervise the adoption and recommend whether it should be made permanent at the final hearing is a willowy young (younger than Cheryl!) white woman named Fay Hopkins (Monet Mazur). What the Broadbents don’t know but we do — at least we do if we watched this movie from the beginning (a couple of people who posted to about it didn’t and therefore were confused) — is that the baby, Mona, was taken away from her parents in the first place and made a ward of the state because she was living with her dad, Kevin Anderson (the tall, dark and sexy Brendan Fehr) when Child Protective Services got a call that she was being neglected, and when their worker (an African-American, like so many voice-of-reason authority figures in Lifetime movies) came over, Kevin shot her — presumably non-fatally, since he was convicted only of simple assault and was paroled in less than a year — then was ambushed by police outside the apartment building where he was living and arrested, while the baby was taken by the state and put in foster care until the Broadbents saw her picture online and initiated adoption proceedings.

The Broadbents are having Mona’s one-year birthday party in a local park (there’s a mention that this story takes place in San Diego but no recognizable San Diego locations appear) when Kevin crashes the party and takes out his own camera (a disposable film camera rather than the digital ones the Broadbents and Cheryl’s parents are using, which clearly symbolizes the class differences between them) and takes Mona’s picture. From then on Kevin stalks the Broadbents, and when Tim tries to turn the tables and stalk Kevin at his house (where he noticed 8” x 10” blow-ups of his photos of Mona on the wall), Kevin turns that around and gets a restraining order against him. The Broadbents go to Dr. Ziegler and ask for information on contacting Mona’s birth mother, and are told there’s nothing he can do because it was a closed adoption and mom’s privacy needs to be protected — whereupon a furious Tim asks Ziegler how Kevin Anderson got their address if the information was supposed to be so confidential. Kevin shows up outside the home of a couple who are friends of the Broadbents, whose son bites Mona on the forehead during a play session — and a smarmily apologetic Fay tells the Broadbents on her next visit that she’s going to have to photograph that and put it in their file.

Fay’s rather smarmy manner — plus the fact that she’s white on a network where virtually all the legitimate members of the helping professions are Black — makes us suspicious of her from the get-go, but about two-thirds of the way through the film the big reversal comes: Fay, who claimed to have masters’ degrees in both social work and clinical psychology, is really an impostor; she’s Mona’s biological mother and she and Kevin are involved in a plot to derail the Broadbents’ chances at legally adopting Mona so they can take her back for themselves. Kevin breaks into Dr. Ziegler’s office by disguising himself as a janitor and kills him just when he’s about to stumble on the real identity of Mona’s birth mother (he’s Web-surfing on his laptop for the information when he’s croaked), and before that Kevin showed up at the hospital where the Broadbents were supposed to get Mona her childhood immunizations, kidnapped Mona but then gave her back when he was caught (once again he was in disguise, this time wearing the green scrubs the hospital itself issued to its own staff). This all leads up to a climax in which Fay locks Kevin in the trunk of their car and sets it afire — though, like the social worker in the opening scene, Kevin later appears, having made a miraculous escape that director Rutare doesn’t bother to show us (it’s bad enough that one of the characters survives against all odds — the social worker in the opening scene — it’s bad enough that Rutare and co-writer Nik Frank-Lehrer pull that twice in the same movie!), as all the characters converge at the mountain cabin of Cheryl’s parents — including the police, there to arrest Tim and Cheryl and take back Mona because Fay “forgot” to reschedule the final adoption hearing, gave the judge a highly selective version of the facts and got him to rule that the adoption was cancelled and therefore the Broadbents are now guilty of kidnapping if they keep the child.

After a pretty confusing shoot-out sequence in which it’s not all that clear who’s doing what to whom — and a horrifying shot in which Cheryl wallops Fay with what appears to be Mona (it’s actually a baby-sized toy the Broadbents brought with them to the cabinet, but we don’t realize that until later) and the presumed “baby” floats down a creek, apparently on its way to drowning (and I found myself thinking of the Biblical story of King Solomon and the two women who were fighting over a baby until Solomon threatened to cut the baby in half and give each woman one of the halves) — the scorecard ends with Kevin, Fay and two cops dead and the Broadbents taken into custody but with the promise that they will be released and reunited with Mona (a tag scene shows them winning the adoption hearing at long last and having her second birthday party in the same park where Kevin stalked them) once Fay’s fingerprints are found in the system and the Broadbents’ story checks out — and Fay’s prints are in the system because, far from being a licensed social worker with two masters’ degrees (as she claimed), she was a mental patient diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and schizophenia who abused her other children and was institutionalized for it. Though Adopting Terror is a bit melodramatic in the usual Lifetime manner, and it suffers from their decision to cut back on the soft-core porn that used to be the highlight of many a Lifetime movie (we only get a brief, furtive, shadowy glimpse of Kevin and Fay doing it, and they’re fully clothed), it’s also a quite competent if unoriginal thriller that gets better as it goes along, the exposition gets out of the way and Rutare’s direction gets tighter and more effective.