Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mentor (Lifetime, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Mentor turned out to be a typical Lifetime production (no production company credits are up on yet), co-written by Christine Conradt with Susan Atkinson and Tony Lefresne, the last of whom also directed, and so tightly scripted to the usual Conradt formula (even though she had two co-writers and the supposed “inspiration” of a true story) one wonders why she didn’t call it The Perfect Mentor. According to, which credits Conradt with the script solo even though the on-screen credits list Atkinson and Lefresne as well, Christine Conradt was born October 7, 1973 in Omaha, and she has well-scrubbed blonde good looks that only hint at the dark fantasies that come out in her scripts. (Actually she looks like the same sort of physical type that usually gets cast as the “pussy in peril” in her scripts.) In last week’s Lifetime “world premiere” “Social Saturday” movie, The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom, Conradt had tried to deviate from her usual formula; as I commented about it, “It’s certainly different from the scripts that made Christine Conradt’s reputation and made her the Lifetime auteur — there aren’t any psychos (even Robert, the closest thing this film has to a villain, is merely a bad old-fashioned male-chauvinist husband), there aren’t any ‘perfect’ people drawing the innocent heroine into a web of craziness and physical peril, there isn’t any big last-minute rescue in which the police have to come in and save Our Heroine from the person in whom she’s placed too much trust.” Well, this time around Conradt fans can breathe easier: The Mentor does contain a psycho who poses as a “perfect” person to draw the innocent heroine into a web of craziness and physical peril, and there is a big last-minute rescue in which the police have to come in and save Our Heroine from the person in which she’s placed too much trust. (And it looks from the titles of Conradt’s upcoming projects on — Guilty at 17, listed as “completed,” and My Life as a Dead Girl, currently in post-production, that like the proverbial shoemaker she’s sticking to her last.)

Our Heroine is Elizabeth May (Jes Macallan), who has a nice lifestyle as a stay-at-home suburban mom with her tennis-pro husband Brian (Nic Bishop) and their two daughters, Pippa (Maggie Scott) and Meghan (Abigail Scott — it looks like the casting director got two actual sisters to portray the on-screen sisters), when one day as they’re driving back home from their cabin in the country to their nice suburban estate (just how much do tennis pros at fancy country clubs make, anyway?), Brian is distracted by his cell phone, he sees another car stalled out on the road, his own car crashes and the other three are unscathed but her older daughter Pippa is killed. The remaining Mays go to such demented lengths to keep Pippa’s memory alive — even to writing her a birthday card and sending it aloft on helium balloons, presumably so it will reach her in heaven — that Meghan feels guilty about having any fun at all because Pippa isn’t there to share it. (It reminded me of the similarly demented lengths Bela Lugosi’s character in The Invisible Ghost went to keep the memory of his presumably dead wife alive, including serving her a meal every year on the anniversary of her “death” — though, being a character in a Lugosi film, she isn’t dead at all; she’s hiding out on the grounds of his home and periodically hypnotizing him into killing someone.) The strains of the grief process lead Brian and Elizabeth to separate and Elizabeth to apply to resume her former career as a teacher, and since she’s been out of the profession for a few years her school’s principal (Yolanda Wood — yes, once again, the big authority figures, including the lead detective who investigates the inevitable murder midway through, are African-American!) suggests that Elizabeth be assigned a mentor to show her the ropes. Fellow teacher Paul Allenham (Aaron Douglas) eagerly snaps up the assignment, though we know he’s a crazy with a psychopathic hatred of women. None of the other characters know that, but we do because we’ve previously seen him accost a woman, Vanessa (Nichelle Aiden), in a bar and, despite never having seen her before, denounce her as a slut. The bartender calls the cops and the cops escort him out but take a note of the incident and get Vanessa’s contact information. (After Elliot Rodger’s recent rampage in Santa Barbara, in which he’s alleged to have killed seven people and wounded 13 to get revenge against every woman who refused to have sex with him, this scene no doubt plays quite differently than Conradt and her collaborators thought it would when they wrote it.)

Meanwhile, Paul shows all the classic indicia of a movie stalker; he goes through Elizabeth’s garbage, secretly photographs her and collects images of her on one of his apartment walls, and poses as a man named “John Connor” to sign up for Brian’s tennis lessons so he can keep an eye on his unrequited inamorata’s husband as well. (Christine Conradt may have intentionally studded her script with references to rock musicians; I found it amusing that the stalker has the same first name as one of the Beatles and takes an alias that’s another Beatle’s first name, and the husband’s name, “Brian May,” is that of the lead guitarist and co-principal songwriter of Queen, who for some reason has been virtually forgotten even though he, unlike Freddy Mercury, is still alive.) Paul gets jealous when Elizabeth goes to lunch with another teacher at Vista Avenue Elementary School, Pam (Renny Grames), instead of him, and when Pam tells Paul that Elizabeth isn’t interested in him that way, Paul responds by killing Pam and trying to frame Milo (Rocky Myers, easily the hottest guy in this movie!), the school janitor, for the crime. Through all of this Paul is incessantly harangued by his sister Amber (Clare Niederpruem), who when they were both 17 (they were fraternal twins) slipped him an anonymous Valentine’s Day note, left him wondering which schoolgirl thought he was hot, then dropped the bomb that she sent it as a prank because no one would want to have sex with him. In response he got angry and smothered her with a pillow, killing her, then posed as the grief-stricken brother and years later attracted Elizabeth (though not romantically on her part) by saying that since they’d both lost family members, they had a lot in common and should be friends. Alas, like Anthony Perkins’ mother in Psycho, Amber has survived in Paul’s consciousness and periodically has “conversations” with him, goading him to go after women and then attack or kill them.

It all ends pretty much the way you think it’s going to end, with Paul drugging Brian’s water bottle and kidnapping him, ordering him to write a note that will make his murder look like suicide, then actually shooting him — though we get a close-up of Brian’s eyes blinking, just to assure us before the last commercial break that Brian isn’t quite dead and there’s still a chance he can recover — and then Paul goes to Elizabeth, tells her he’s killed her husband so they can be together, and she plays along until she can grab his gun, they both reach for it (Maurine Watkins, your plagiarism attorney is returning your call from his vacation villa on the French Riviera, which he thanks you for paying for) and Paul is incapacitated, though at the end it’s shown that he, too, is still alive and the cops take him into custody. The Mentor is good Christine Conradt — and her director and co-writer, Tony Lefresne, backs up her script with appropriately Gothic direction (even though there’s one bizarre sequence when Pam is about to be murdered, where he quotes the opening setups from the shower scene in Psycho before he and Conradt pull a switcheroo on us and have Paul kill Pam, not in the shower, but in bed with a pillow the way Paul killed his sister Amber years before) — though she’s written better scripts than this. Still, it’s an indication of how well she’s mastered her formula, and the actors in the three leads inhabit their parts well enough even though I would have wished for someone hotter than Nic Bishop as Brian — the man is supposed to be an athlete, after all!