Monday, April 6, 2015

Killer Crush (NB Thrilling Films 3/Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago I watched a “world premiere” TV-movie on Lifetime called Killer Crush — well, at least that’s the title they finally gave it after they considered Obsessed on Campus and Girl Obsessed (were they hoping viewers would remember Girl, Interrupted?), a pretty by-the-numbers Lifetime tale written by Corbin Mezner and John Serge and directed by Anthony Lefresne, with Lefresne’s former directorial partner, Curtis James Crawford, named as one of the legion of “producers.” It’s all about Paige York (Daviegh Chase, whose head shot on shows her with dark hair but who went blonde for this role), a medical student at Riverton (not Whittendale!) University, who decides that her surgery teacher, Dr. Lucas Emery (Rick Roberts — and do I need to tell you he’s tall and lanky? That’s the de rigueur look for Lifetime leading men, though he has a bit more grey in his otherwise sandy-brown hair than usual), is the great love of her life. There’s one minor problem: the doc is married, and his wife Gabby (Sydney Penny) is in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. So Paige wangles a job as Gabby’s caregiver through the school’s student employment office and gets the Emerys’ daughter Amy (Grace Zanichkowsky) to fall in love with her as the big sister she never had.

Wanting to get rid of the inconvenient wife — watching Paige take care of Gabby and have to haul her back into the wheelchair after she overexerts herself was a busman’s holiday for me, and it occurred to me a better title for the film might have been Killer Caregiver — Paige learns how when, in one of his lectures, Dr. Emery helpfully explains that to do a graft to replace a broken artery he first administers potassium chloride “to stop the heart from beating — temporarily,” he adds, though this has given Paige the information she needs to stop Gabby’s heart from beating … permanently. She does this by sneaking into the Emerys’ home while the doc is out jogging — oddly, he calls Gabby on his cell while he’s running but doesn’t seem perturbed that she doesn’t answer, and he doesn’t bother to check in on her until the next morning (and when he does see her he seems totally clueless — one would think a doctor would know what death looked like!) — and there’s a nice little suspense scene when he comes home while Paige is still there and she has to sneak out again without him catching her wearing medical gloves and with a needle in her hand. Messrs. Mezner and Serge try to make Paige an understandable, if not sympathetic, character by the usual Lifetime strategy of burdening her with plenty of dysfunction in her own family: her dad was a con artist who was arrested and served four years, her mom committed suicide after dad’s arrest, and when dad finally got out he asked Paige and her alcoholic sister Tayler (Melanie Scrofano) for thousands of dollars to launch his latest Ponzi scheme, and then himself committed suicide when Paige turned him down. Tayler starts the movie as such a basket case she’s fired from her job as a bartender for consuming too much of the stock personally, though midway through the movie she disappears into rehab and comes back clean, sober and ultimately smart enough to see through her sister’s scheme.

Eventually Paige decides that the doc is ready for her, and during a sleepover at his home she undresses (at least as much as Lifetime’s standards-and-practices department would allow) and gets into his bed — whereupon he angrily rejects her and says that as appreciative as he is of her work with his wife and his daughter, he’s never thought of her “that way.” Like a true Lifetime villain, Paige decides she wants revenge — and her idea of revenge is to frame Dr. Emery and get him convicted of murdering his wife. It takes an avuncular African-American police detective (not another avuncular African-American police detective!) named Detective Cullen (Andrew Moodie) to figure it all out, and meanwhile Paige kills her sister Tayler by clubbing her over the head with a heavy candle holder (a pity, since Tayler was by far the most sympathetic member of the dramatis personae and the one I most wanted to see alive at the end) before the cops finally come and arrest her. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Killer Crush but there’s nothing particularly right with it either; it’s a to-the-pattern Lifetime movie by writers and director who are totally familiar with the formula and apply it to near-perfection — though one at least faintly innovative element was to have the presumably more-grounded Paige, not her self-destructive sister, be the one with the “killer crush.” Daveigh Chase acts her part with the sort of self-satisfied half-pout, half-smirk common to Lifetime’s young villainesses — I used to be far more impressed by these performances before I realized how similar they are to each other — and the rest of the cast is likewise competent in roles that (with the possible exception of Tayler) really don’t stretch them that much. I enjoyed Killer Crush for what it was but it’s really not much of a movie — various Lifetime films have transcended the limits of their formula but this isn’t one of them!