Sunday, April 8, 2012

Home Invasion (Johnson Production Group, Shadowland, Lifetime, 2012)

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

I spent this morning watching a better-than-average film from Lifetime, Home Invasion, another auteur production from Christine Conradt. Lifetime’s ace screenwriter (who is probably more responsible than any other single person for creating the style of the “Lifetime movie”) had to share writing credits with three other people, Ken Sanders and Michael Shipman for the story (though if they came up with this without Conradt’s help they can at least be credited for having vividly internalized her style of plot construction!) and Conradt herself co-credited with the screenplay along with the film’s director, Doug Campbell, though Conradt also gets an “executive producer” credit which seems to suggest she’s moving up in the movie world. One would think that a Christine Conradt-scripted Lifetime movie called Home Invasion would be about a woman whose home was invaded by a band of burglars who held her hostage for the full two hours’ running time until she finally figured out a way to get free of them and/or call the authorities — but she and Campbell had some surprises up their sleeves this time. It begins with a hot soft-core porn scene between Jade (Haylie Duff) and her boyfriend Will (Taymour Ghazi) that’s interrupted by another man, Ray (C. Thomas Howell), who wants them to knock off their amorous activities and get to work. The “work” he has in mind is a home-invasion robbery, though apparently what he wants is to enter an empty house and then wait for the occupants to come home so he can hold them at gunpoint and force them to cash out all their bank accounts in addition to stealing whatever valuables they have on the premises. These scenes are intercut with the people who are going to become the victims: Nicole (Lisa Sheridan), her boyfriend Eric (Jason Brooks) and her adoptive daughter Abigail (Kyla Dang), whom we can tell is adopted (she’s actually in the process of adopting her) because she’s visibly Asian and her on-screen mom is white.

It turns out later that Eric, an architect, is a recovering alcoholic — Nicole broke up with him when he was still drinking and decided that if she wanted a family, she was going to have to have one without his help, so she made the arrangements to adopt Abigail as a single mom, and then Eric got into A.A. (we know that because he makes a passing reference to a “meeting” he’s going to, and since none of these people are political activists it’s obvious what sort of meeting he means) and he’s been sober for 17 months so far, just long enough for Nicole to start to think that maybe he’s worth marrying and having kids with au naturel after all. Where this film starts to go in directions veteran Conradt-scripted movie writers don’t expect is when Nicole, being told to empty her safe at gunpoint, finds in it not only her jewels but also a gun of her own, which she carefully removes and uses to shoot Will in the back. The police, led by Detective Klein (Al Sapienza), buy her claim of justifiable homicide, and Maurice Lapeer (Jason Stuart), the rather queeny chef she’s hired for the restaurant she’s about to open (called the “Moon Bridge Café” even though, whatever the cuisine is, it’s decidedly not Asian) — when he admits his assistant isn’t very talented one half-expects him to add, “But I love it when he stuffs his big thick cock up my ass, so I don’t care” — suggests she join a support group for robbery victims. The only problem with that is that Jade, who’s now calling herself Megan, joins the support group herself and says she’s there to get over her grief from her husband having been murdered — only in one slip she calls him her “boyfriend” and when Nicole notices and says, “I thought he was your husband,” Megan tosses it off and says, “We were engaged.” Of course she’s up to no good, and in the manner of the usual Christine Conradt villainess she proceeds to ingratiate herself with Nicole, offering to come over to their house and give Abigail swimming lessons — it was established in the early scenes at the beach that Abigail is afraid of water — and she encourages Abigail to “surprise” her mother by going swimming in the family pool alone.

It’s a surprise, all right, as Abigail nearly drowns while Nicole and Eric are in the house having an argument, and they hear her just in time for Eric to dive in the pool (fully clothed) and save her, but Abigail tells a couple of her classmates about the incident, Megan somehow learns about it, and calls in a complaint to social worker Tricia (Barbara Niven) that Abigail is being neglected. Meanwhile, Megan also joins Nicole for lunch at the Moon Bridge Café and somehow manages to spike some of the food so nine people, including Nicole herself, come down with food poisoning from whatever it was they ate there — leading the health authorities to close the place down (there’s a grimly ironic little scene in which Nicole visits a doctor and the doctor tells her not to eat at the Moon Bridge Café, not knowing that Nicole owns the place) — and Megan doesn’t stop there: she torches the restaurant and frames Nicole for arson. Then, exhibiting the virtually supernatural smarts of a typical Christine Conradt villain of either gender, she decides to target Eric, apparently figuring, “She killed my boyfriend — I’ll kill hers.” When Nicole and Eric learn the address of the murdered man, Megan knows they’re on to her late boyfriend and goes out to Eric’s home to ambush him. Meanwhile, while Megan is stalking Nicole and Eric, the third member of the robbery gang, Ray, is stalking her because he wants to get back at her for having clubbed him with a rock in the woods and escaped on her own — and when Ray shows up at Eric’s place Megan knifes him to death and sets it up to look like Eric was the killer.

While all that’s been going on, Detective Klein, sure that Nicole was guilty of burning down her own restaurant for the insurance money, comes along just when she’s supposed to meet Tricia the social worker and try to convince her to let her keep Abigail — and of course the presence of police interrogating Nicole about a serious crime they’re convinced she’s guilty of has the opposite effect and Tricia takes Abigail away for yet another date with the foster-care system Nicole had freed her from. It all ends back at Nicole’s house, where Megan (who can enter at will since she’s stolen Nicole’s keys and had them copied) confronts Nicole, intending to kill her with an injection of potassium chloride, only the wounded Eric recovers and wires the room with a video camera so anything that happens in it will be recorded. Nicole finally kills Megan after getting the evidence on tape that Megan is guilty, and she’s exonerated and the last scene is the three of them (Nicole, Eric and Abigail) reunited on the beach they were at in the opening sequences, Abigail proclaiming that she’s no longer afraid of the water, and Nicole telling her that just as she’s learned a new last name she’s going to have to take another one because Nicole and Eric are going to get married. Home Invasion has some of the usual flaws of a Christine Conradt production — a script full of holes and some pretty outrageously melodramatic plotting — but it also has some of the good things about a Conradt production: Campbell is an effective suspense director and the two of them keep us interested and keep us watching, and the ending for once is reasonably credible and doesn’t rely on the seeming intervention of half the U.S. military to save our damsel in distress. Home Invasion is also well acted, especially by Haylie Duff as the villainess; that weird little pout that forms on her face at her nastiest moments tells us a lot more about her evil than a more overtly snarling performance would.