Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hiding (Aircraft Pictures/Dolphin Entertainment, 2012)

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

I ran a movie called Hiding that I’d recorded off Lifetime over the weekend. The way the Lifetime promos ballyhooed it, it sounded like a brand-new film having its “world premiere,” but apparently it had — or at least was meant to have — at least something of a theatrical release in 2012. It’s the sort of frustrating movie that takes an intriguing premise and gets far less out of it than one could imagine — what happens to a high-school girl when she’s suddenly relocated into witness protection and moved from New York City to Longview, Montana after her family is massacred by a crime syndicate and, though she’s survived, the crooks think she’s dead and so do all her old friends? Directed by Thomas J. Wright from a script by Brian Hurwitz, Hiding is an interesting fusion of gangster movie and high-school coming-of-age drama. The survivor, Alicia Torres (played by Ana Villafañe, a singer whom I’d previously not heard of, though she doesn’t get to sing here), is forced to adopt the white-bread identity “Jo Russo” and is told by her handler, FBI Agent Noah Carter (Dan Payne, who not surprisingly is older but considerably hotter than any of the guys playing male Longview High School students!), to avoid anything connected with her past life. Accordingly, she’s been outfitted with a cover story that she’s from Seattle and she’s been solemnly told never to do anything she was known to have been interested in before, including painting (her former hobby), and she’s also told not to let on that she speaks Spanish — which makes it rather odd that she takes a Spanish class but never utters a word of it while there even though she aces the written tests. Like Kristen Stewart’s character in the first Twilight (a precursor I kept hearkening back to even though Hiding contains no supernatural element), instead of being shunned by everybody Jo is instantly popular, particularly among two young men in school, Brett (Jeremy Sumpter, the star swimmer led down the primrose path by Internet porn in the Lifetime film cyber seduction: His Secret Life, here playing a self-confident B.M.O.C. instead of a nerdy guy whose only distinction is his prowess in the pool) and Jesse (Tyler Blackburn), who hung out in the art lab, was working on a mural painting of the New York cityscape, and thereby represented danger for Jo because hanging around him was likely to “out” her as a New Yorker and an artist. (I liked Jesse a lot better than Brett — perhaps because he reminded me of me in my own high-school days — and was rooting for him and Jo to get together at the end, but alas writer Hurwitz had other ideas.)

But the main threats to Jo’s incognito are Zoë (Kelcie Stranahan, who was the nice girl the boy in Dirty Teacher was dating until his hot, sexy teacher seduced him instead), who’s jealous of Jo for taking Brett away from her and retaliates by researching her background and finding that she has something to hide; and a mysterious hit man, Ostrog (Dean Armstrong, who played Blake on the Showtime series Queer as Folk), who’s tracing Jo because the gang has realized she’s alive after all and is being kept on ice by the feds so she can testify against them when needed. Ostrog is tall, rather gangly, clearly Anglo and not at all the sort of person one expects to see playing a hit man in a film these days, but Armstrong’s performance is effectively sinister, especially in the scene in which he wheedles the address of Jo’s “abuela” (the word literally means grandmother, but the woman is simply a much older person who befriended Jo and a lot of her fellow teenage girls back in New York), then visits her in the nursing home and sees the card on a bouquet of flowers Jo sent her, which leads him to Longview and a climax that takes place seemingly just because the film has to end sometime: Jo is about to borrow Brett’s truck to get away, but just before she gets in Ostrog sneaks up behind her, chloroforms her and kidnaps her, then calls the gang and tells them that he’s ready to kill her but only if they agree to pay him twice the agreed-upon price for the deed. The cops manage to trace her via Brett’s cell phone, which she also borrowed (one of the rules of witness protection, at least as applied to Jo, was that she wasn’t allowed to have a cell phone), only Ostrog is so good an assassin he instantly blows away the two pathetic Montana cops who try to arrest him and wounds Carter, then goes tearing through the woods to hunt down Jo, who’s running away from him, and he catches up with her and is about to do the dirty deed when Carter, fortunately wounded but far from dead, kills him. 

It’s a fascinating concept for a movie — what do you do when you’re a high-school kid and the difficulties of adjusting to a new school and the internal politics of its student body are compounded by the fact that your life is literally at stake if you disclose, intentionally or accidentally, anything about who you really are and what your background has been — but alas director Wright and writer Hurwitz miss as many opportunities as they grab, sometimes portraying Jo’s dilemma sensitively and sometimes just losing it, especially in the awkwardly cut-in flashback sequences that are supposed to represent her PTSD-inducing memories of the crime; still, it was better than the usual Lifetime fare even though it was far from their best (Speak, a high-school story based on an acknowledged classic young-adult novel and starring the real Kristen Stewart just before she did Twilight, was considerably better), and Ana Villafañe is a reasonably powerful screen presence and helps hold the film together.