Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Husband She Met Online (NB Thrilling Films/Lifetime, 2013)

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

Last night I watched the “world premiere” movie on Lifetime, The Husband She Met Online, fitting into their odd series of formula titles (The _____ S/he Met Online, _____ at 17, The Perfect _____) and with a script by Lifetime’s prime auteur (or should I call her a Schreiber, since she makes her personality felt on all her projects no matter which hack-of-the-week directs them?), Christine Conradt. It’s a reasonably good example of the Lifetime formula but it doesn’t really transcend it the way a few of their movies have done. The heroine is Rachel Maleman (Meredith Monroe, who was quite good in the 2006 Lifetime movie Not My Life — a wilder and more far-fetched story than this one but also a more intense and exciting film — but this time just seemed to be going through the motions) — and what was going through Conradt’s mind to assign her heroine, who though she’s a successful professional (a wedding and special-events coordinator for a major hotel) is still a girly-girl at heart, a bizarre name like “male man”? As the movie opens she’s just dumped her boyfriend and co-worker John Anderson (Brett Watson, a pasty-faced man of medium height who looks stolid and dull, just the way Lifetime usually likes its non-psycho leading men) because he got drunk at a business party and ended up having sex with another woman. She’s moved into the spare room of her best friend, Laura (Krista Morin) — who’s having her own relationship problems; she’s just broken up with her boyfriend Roger and then suddenly discovered she’s pregnant by him — and purely for a lark she goes online to meet a new boyfriend. She finds him in Craig Miller (Jason Gray-Stanford, who’s tall, rail-thin and decent-looking but a bit on the prissy side, though he’s attractive enough that we get the impression that just on looks alone she’s trading up from John), only it turns out that not only is Craig up to no good (well, it’s a Lifetime production of a Christine Conradt script, so what did you expect?), he’s been stalking Rachel and doing Web searches of her and he’s got a private detective following him. The detective is Jerry Berman (Bill Lake, the sort of homely, heavy-set guy Lifetime likes as its private eyes— though he probably looks more like a real one than did Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell!) and he’s been hired by Howard Ranton (Tom Berry), father of Craig’s previous girlfriend Dominique (Allison Brennan). It seems that Dominique mysteriously disappeared six months previously, just before Craig turned up in Rachel’s life, only because she didn’t take her credit cards and cell phone with her, her dad is convinced Craig murdered her. It takes a while, but eventually Conradt and her director, Curtis Crawford, give us a flashback sequence showing that he’s right; she got tired of his control-freak tendencies, she announced she was leaving him, he gave the no-one-ever-leaves-me speech and he strangled her then and there.

We’re given a bit of pseudo-Freudian psychology to explain why Craig is such a rotter: it seems that he’s the heir to a huge fortune but the purse strings are controlled, in more ways than one, by his mother Doris (Mimi Kuzyk), who’s objected to every girlfriend Craig has ever dated and has made it clear he’s not getting the family fortune (from whatever business it was accumulated in — Conradt couldn’t care less about minor details like that) until he marries someone of whom she does approve. Craig also has a younger brother, Ryan (Damon Runyan, who though he looked enough like Jason Gray-Stanford to be believable as his brother struck me as much sexier and, indeed, the only truly hot guy in this film), who’s married to a mousy woman named Tasha (Cinthia Burke). Needless to say, Ryan is involved in his brother’s criminal schemes up to his fancy haircut — he even knocks off Rachel’s ex, John (ya remember John?), when he’s worried John is getting too close to the truth — but the clueless Tasha has no idea until the private detective shows up at the end after Craig has decided he’s going to marry Rachel immediately and fly her to Belize (I’m presuming they have no extradition treaty with the U.S.), where the two of them shall live happily ever after on Craig’s share of the wealth and income of the 1 percent. Just before one commercial break we see Rachel, whose suspicions have finally been aroused by the visit of the detective and her own online search for information on the disappearance of Dominique Ranton (did Conradt deliberately intend her name to resemble Dominique Francon, the heroine of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead?), begging off the relationship and saying they need time to work out whether this is what they both want, and after we return from the commercials we see Rachel tied to Craig’s bed with heavy chains. No, they haven’t suddenly discovered an interest in bondage (though given the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequelae, a plot in which a man from the 1 percent subjugates and turns a lower-status woman into his sex slave through subjecting her to increasingly extreme S/M might have been both a good deal more interesting and a good deal more popular than the film we actually have!); this is Craig’s idea of persuading Rachel to be a good little girl and marry him. Craig’s brother Ryan is also on the scene and Rachel pleads with him to untie her — in vain, of course.

By saying he’ll kill her friend Laura (ya remember Laura?) if she doesn’t, Craig forces Rachel to get into his car, drive to the town hall and undergo the marriage ceremony, and on the way he stops the car to let out Rachel’s dog Cody, saying that she can’t take the pooch with them and either Craig will tie him to the back of their car or she’ll have to set him free. Craig should just have shot the mutt, because Cody is picked up by a passing truck driver and, though Craig removed his collar and identification tag, Rachel had implanted him with a microchip, through which the authorities at the humane society are able to trace him to Laura, so both the private detective and the official police are on the scene when Craig arrives at the airport, intending to have his pilot (Corry Burke) fly him and Rachel to Belize in his Learjet. The cops arrive in the nick of time, the pilot — who, like Tasha Miller, had no idea Craig was involved in anything illegal — gets nonplussed when Craig holds a gun on him and orders him to fly out in defiance of the authorities, and official police detective Eve Millstrom (Catherine Mary Stewart) takes advantage of Craig’s momentary confusion (hold the gun on Rachel or his pilot?) to blow him away. There’s a weird little tag scene in which Rachel is out walking in the park with Laura and her baby (ya remember Laura’s baby?), when Rachel runs into another man, whom we’re obviously supposed to read as the nice guy who’s going to be a good boyfriend for her and help her get over the traumas of Craig … either that or Conradt is setting up an equally dire sequel, The Husband She Met in the Park. It was obvious from Conradt’s usual formulae that she was setting John up for one of the two fates that befall nice guys who either used to date the heroine or had an unrequited crush on her before the perfect guy she met online came into the picture — either he’s going to be there to get her on the rebound at the end or Conradt is going to knock him off halfway through — and in this case she chose the latter. The Husband She Met Online is a decent piece of Lifetime-style entertainment, neither especially good nor especially bad, filled with people who are neither especially sexy nor especially homely (except for Cinthia Burke), with Christine Conradt’s writing and Curtis Crawford’s direction also neither especially good nor especially bad; the viewers of this fare no doubt got what they were expecting (certainly I did) but without the twists and turns some other writers and directors (as well as Conradt herself in some of her scripts) have used to add piquance to the basic Lifetime stew.