Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dirty Teacher (Johnson Production Group, 2013)

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

This morning I ran a recently aired Lifetime movie called Dirty Teacher, which I’d hoped would be a piece of good clean dirty fun and which pretty much delivered. Oddly, its writers (Ken Sanders, story; Barbara Kymlicka, script) and director (Doug Campbell) were the same trio who created the outrageously bad recent Lifetime film The Surrogate, and they even meant this to take place in the same “universe”: the innocent young heroine whose boyfriend is seduced away from her by his hot new teacher is seeking admission to Whittendale University, the school where Jacob Kelly (Cameron Mathison) taught literature and creative writing in The Surrogate; and when the villainess needs an alibi she concocts one by buying a movie ticket to a film based on Blackberry Winter, the novel Jacob Kelly had written in The Surrogate (only to be forced to take a teaching job when he found himself blocked on his follow-up book). Dirty Teacher is at least faintly more believable than The Surrogate but it’s pretty much cut from the same cloth. When high-school English teacher Mrs. Cohen (Michelle Cuneo) steps down from her position in mid-term to go on maternity leave — she’s greeted with a banner from her students announcing, “It’s a girl!,” making one wonder how they found out the gender of her baby-to-be — she’s inexplicably replaced by 40-year-old but still attractive-looking Molly Matson (Josie Davis). The moment she shows up on campus Molly instantly gets the hots for one of her students, Danny Campbell (the genuinely hot and hunky Cameron Deane Stewart), who’s captain of the school baseball team as well as the son of a wealthy local entrepreneur, Brad Campbell (Brett Stimely), which has pretty much promised him a legacy admission to Stanford. One problem is that Danny already has a girlfriend, Jamie Hall (Kelcie Stranahan), whom he’s been dating for almost a year but who has, for the usual “moral” reasons, so far refused to have sex with him.

Jamie’s parents are in financial straits because after 18 years at Brad’s company, her father Steven (Marc Raducci) was laid off, and he’s responded to this by drinking a lot and occasionally going by Brad’s home to harangue him about the injustice of it all. In one of the film’s most genuinely chilling — as opposed to insanely melodramatic — scenes, Jamie’s mom Lauren (Darlene Vogel) sends her out to pick up dad, who’s over at the Campbells doing one of his drunken rambles — and when Jamie arrives, she’s just in time to hear Brad denounce Steven as a drunk and say, “Look at yourself! What company is going to hire you?” “Don’t hurt him more than you already have,” Jamie says, taking her father away in a deeply sad inversion of the usual parent/child roles. Molly openly cruises Danny both in and out of class, offering to meet him for “tutoring” after class and slipping him both her phone number and, later, her address. She also sets up a date for herself and Danny by deliberately giving Jamie a bad grade she doesn’t deserve, then telling her she’ll upgrade her paper if she rewrites it that night — and eventually Danny, with a bad case of blue balls from Jamie’s latest turndown (at a party where he was sure she’d get drunk enough to say yes), sneaks over to teacher’s house and they end up doing the down-’n’-dirty. (This film marks a welcome return of the soft-core porn Lifetime used to do a lot more of than they do now, and once again Cameron Deane Stewart is such a gorgeous hunk of man-meat it’s a sheer joy to see as much of his naked bod as we do!) In the meantime we’ve glimpsed flashback scenes to Molly’s own childhood, sheer hell as she was being raised by a slatternly foster-mother until she killed the woman, a diabetic, by sticking her with her own insulin needle and then faking the scene to make it look like she killed herself on purpose. The foster-mother from hell routinely called Molly “pathetic” and “freak,” two words that serve as triggers for her psychopathic rages the way that playing card did in The Manchurian Candidate, and when Danny asks to meet Molly in the park but intends to tell her the affair is off, he uses the P-word and Molly responds by getting in her car and running him over, killing him.

When she realizes what she’s done, she determines to frame Jamie for the crime; she stashes her cell phone in the glove compartment of Jamie’s car (how did she get the keys?) — Jamie doesn’t have a cell phone because her financially strapped parents (her mom is working two jobs to make up for the fact that her dad is working none) couldn’t afford to keep paying her bills — and rubs Danny’s blood on Jamie’s front bumper to set her up. The police duly arrest Jamie and her dad has to borrow money from his brother to bail her out of jail — and even so Jamie is put under house arrest and forced to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around her ankle. (She’s not allowed to attend school, but her mom is authorized to pick up her course work so she can keep up at home.) Unable to get any evidence against Molly — the one piece of physical evidence, Molly’s own bumper with Danny’s blood on it, disappeared when she paid a chop-shop owner $2,000 to replace it and get rid of it, no questions asked — Jamie determines to go to Molly’s house and trick her into confessing, though Molly catches the smartphone (presumably borrowed since Jamie doesn’t have one of her own) on which Jamie is recording her and stomps on it (The Surrogate also contains a scene in which the villainess crushes a cell phone under foot). Jamie’s plan is to keep Molly talking until the police arrive — earlier her dad warned her that if she ever left the grounds of their home the cops would come within 10 minutes — but the writers and director have another surprise up their sleeves: the first detective who shows up gets clubbed and knocked out by Molly, though Jamie is far-sighted enough to grab the cop’s gun and threaten Molly with it. “You don’t know what to do with a gun!” Molly says — whereupon Jamie fires a warning shot in the air and attracts the other cops in the neighborhood, who duly take Molly into custody. A tag scene shows that Jamie has not only got an acceptance letter from Whittendale but also the scholarship she needs to afford to attend (since mom dipped into her college fund for the money to keep the house after dad lost his job), so all’s more or less right with the world.

Dirty Teacher has quite a few things going for it — it’s nice, for once, to see a sexually predatory teacher movie in which the teacher isn’t a more or less innocent character either framed as having an affair with a student when she really isn’t or led into a real one by quirky circumstances that keep her a sympathetic character (as the real-life Mary Kay LeTourneau was portrayed in the marvelous TV-movie about her, All-American Girl), but someone who’s out to manipulate and seduce her pet student from the moment she lays eyes on him. But the more the writers tried to give the character some explanation for her psychopathology, the harder it was to believe the story: the teacher comes in looking less like an educator and more like a street hooker, and one wonders what possessed the authorities at this high school to hire her in the first place. At the end we find out she’d already been fired by a school district in New York for having an affair with a student but was able to conceal that fact from her new employers — which itself is pretty hard to believe (are we supposed to think the American Federation of Teachers actively protects sexual predators in the ranks the way the Roman Catholic and Boy Scout hierarchies did?) — and there’s a weird little tag scene showing some men in jail watching the news coverage of Molly’s conviction and bantering about how if there’d been more teachers like her in their school days, they never would have dropped out. Dirty Teacher is a movie done in by its own demented silliness — though the silliness itself has some engaging entertainment value — and by the exit of Danny about two-thirds of the way through, not only because we don’t get to look at his bod again (except for a brief hallucination scene in which he appears, all bruised and bloody, in Molly’s bed) but because we want to see him alive, well and reunited with Jamie at the end, if only to reunite their two families instead of treading awfully close to Romeo and Juliet territory (“Your dad fired my dad, but I love you anyway”).