Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Wife He Met Online (Movie Venture 5/Zed Filmworks, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Wife He Met Online was shown on Lifetime a few weeks ago as the immediate follow-up to The Surrogate because they both featured the same male lead, Cameron Mathison, veteran of the soap opera All My Children (he was on it from 1998 to 2011 — with a one-year sabbatical from 2002 to 2003 — and described his character as follows: “I’ve been shot at like four times. Hit once. My wife got shot and donated her heart to another person and she came back as a ghost. I flew to Chechnya to save somebody in the war. I became a billionaire. Lost it all. Then became a billionaire again. It’s not as exciting as Susan [Lucci]. Nobody’s as exciting as Susan”) and who even at 43 years old (he was born August 25, 1969) is quite handsome and, despite the unflattering slacks he had to wear throughout The Wife He Met Online, flashes an enviable basket as well. All I needed to know about The Wife He Met Online was that Christine Conradt was involved — she had the sole screenwriting credit and was also listed as one of four “executive producers” (along with Tom Berry, Neil Bregman and Pierre David) — since the story, once it started to unreel, was very much in Conradt’s usual mold (in both senses of the word). It opens with Bryant Meyers (Mathison) and his new wife Georgia (Sydney Penny) celebrating the joys of Internet dating and how it brought them together even though they were living on opposite coasts: he was an ad exec in Philadelphia (yeah, a hotbed of the advertising business) and she a stylist on photo shoots in L.A. They’ve also been through breakups: he has an ex-wife named Virginia (Cynthia Preston) who’s still close to him, and not only because they had a daughter, Megan (Emily Burley). Bryant also had a brief rebound fling with a woman who works in the same office, Zenya Ivanski (Krista Bridges) — “Zenya Ivanski” is a pretty lame excuse for a Russian name, but hey, we’re talking Christine Conradt here, not Leo Tolstoy! — and it turns out Georgia is a woman with a past. No, not that sort of past; while she’s about to get married to Bryant she receives a talking-to from her mother reminding him of the bad ending of her immediately previous relationship with a man named Geoffrey, a tax attorney in L.A. who let her move in with him, only to experience a jealous hissy-fit that included her spreading gasoline on their marital bed and attempting to use it to burn their house down, also threatening suicide and finally escaping into the night when he called the police on her.

Later we find out that Georgia’s mother is actually dead — she died when Georgia was 10, in a house fire which was originally ruled an accident but we later learn that Georgia, though she didn’t start the fire herself, ensured that her mom would die by barricading the doors so when mom realized that she’d fallen asleep while smoking, dropped her cigarette and ser her house ablaze, she couldn’t escape. Conradt seems to be ripping off Hitchcock’s (and Robert Bloch’s, and Joseph Stefano’s) Psycho here — the psychopathic killer who’s haunted by the memory of her mom, who never stopped reminding her that her dad had walked out on them and therefore all men were not to be trusted — and she indulges her rather puerile sense of irony, especially when she starts the film with Bryant and Georgia being filmed for a promotional video by the computer dating company that brought them together and then tells the “real” story of how Georgia gets pathologically jealous of the other women in Bryant’s life, including Virginia — never mind that, despite criticizing Bryant for having leaped into a relationship with Georgia after barely getting to know her (at least offline), Virginia remarried (to a decent-looking guy named Nick, played by James Thomas, who’s easy on the eyes but considerably less sexy than Cameron Mathison) sooner than her ex-husband did — and also Zenya. Georgia fakes an Internet profile as “WineLoverMark” and hooks up online with Zenya in order to get information out of her, and when she’s found out enough she booby-traps Zenya’s car by poking a hole in its gas tank, letting the gas run out and then placing a lit cigarette under the car so that when Zenya gets into it and tries to start it, the cigarette ignites the spilled gas, the gas catches on fire and incinerates the car and Zenya inside it. This seemed to me to be a rather roundabout way of knocking off someone — wouldn’t the cigarette burn out well before Zenya returned to her car? — though it tied in with what we’ve been told all along about Georgia: not only that she’s homicidal but her favorite method of murder is fire.

There’s a final climax in which Geoffrey, whom Virginia has tracked down on the Internet, returns her phone call — only Megan’s babysitter gets the message and passes it on to Megan, who calls (you guessed it) Georgia to ask what the “RE:” abbreviation means on it — so Georgia goes tearing over to Virginia’s house and Virginia chases after her, and Bryant chases after her, with the result that Bryant and Georgia confront each other on the rooftop of the building where he works, Georgia brings a knife and threatens to slash her own wrists, then stabs Bryant, while Bryant’s male co-worker David (Richard Alan Nash), who has said he’s happily married but we’ve never actually seen his wife, rescues him and calls 911 for an ambulance — only Georgia gets away and there’s a macabre final scene in which she’s changed her hair (more likely she’s wearing a wig) and she’s back online, talking to another nice guy she’s hooked with her profile who’s worried about the psychos he’s already heard do online dating … After the unexpected quality of Restless Virgins (a marvelous film about class in the U.S. and the power of the 1 percent disguised as a sexploitation film), The Wife He Met Online was typical Lifetime fare, slovenly directed by Curtis Crawford (rather than Conradt’s usual collaborator, Douglas Jackson) and all too typical of this network in its traveling down well-worn formula paths and giving the audience what it’s previously proven it wants (though it’s possible that the reason Lifetime has shifted from movie-length programs to scripted series and so-called “reality” shows is that the formulae of their movies are getting awfully threadbare!), though Cameron Mathison is not only nice to look at, he also acts the role of the victim with power and authority and at least this film is close enough to the rest of the world’s reality than here, unlike in The Surrogate (or his soap-opera role, if his description of it can be trusted), he can actually create something resembling a character rather than just riding the weird events of a ridiculous script and holding on for dear life!