Friday, June 19, 2015

I Killed My BFF (Red Hippo, Jackson, Shadowland, Lifetime, 2015)

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

I finally got to watch the Lifetime movie I’d recorded last Saturday: I Killed My BFF. It’s one of the most ridiculous titles Lifetime or its producers (the Johnson Entertainment Group and Shadowland, in conjunction with a company called — of all things — Red Hippo) have ever concocted, which was fully appropriate because it was one of the most ridiculous stories they’ve ever concocted either. Even such mistresses of Lifetime melodrama as Christine Conradt or Barbara Kymlicka would have been ashamed to have their names on the credits of this one — the writers were Danny Abel and Blake Berris (it’s irresistibly tempting to note, with apologies to Dorothy Parker, that their script ran the gamut of emotions from A to B), and the (over)director someone named Seth Jarrett. It’s basically a mishmash of Lifetime’s Greatest Hits, and it suffers from the common failing of all too many modern movies that it really doesn’t give you anyone you can like. Indeed, for all the critical lickings Emmanuel Schickaneder has taken over the years for his character reversals in his libretto for Mozart’s The Magic Flute (in Act I the Queen of the Night is a heroine and Sarastro a villain; in Act II Sarastro is a hero and the Queen a villain), poor old Schickaneder had nothing on Messrs. Abel and Berris, who seemed bent and determined to put everyone of their characters through a moral reversal. It starts with Shane Riley (Katrina Bowden), a blonde bimbette and long-term girlfriend of Alex Lachan (Chris Zylka), who’s already borne him one child and is pregnant with his next one even though they haven’t bothered to get married yet: she’s ready to tie the knot officially but he’s reluctant. Meanwhile, Heather Thomas (Olivia Crocicchia) has just been dumped literally in the middle of the road by the father of her baby-to-be, Chase (Blake Michael), and they’re shown driving down the road in Chase’s truck, where she insists the baby is his responsibility because he pleaded with her to be allowed to fuck her without a condom, and he is so not into child-rearing or even child-supporting that he throws her out of the truck, and no sooner does that happen than she goes into labor.

She’s taken to the emergency room of the local hospital and then to the maternity ward, where she and Shane meet in adjoining beds and give birth. A supercilious nurse comes in and warns Heather that her placenta is still inside her — it didn’t come out when her kid did like it’s supposed to — and they can either try to push it out or remove her entire uterus. Shane tells Heather to ask to speak to a surgeon and not to undergo removal of her uterus as long as there’s a chance both she and it can be saved, and the two women bond as “BFF’s” (that means “Best Friends Forever,” in case you’ve spent the last several years in Timbuktu or Antarctica) and even move into the same housing development, where Heather is available to baby-sit Shane’s two kids whenever Shane needs her to — which is quite a lot because Shane is running a high-end (or as high-end as the nondescript and unidentified little town where all this is taking place can support) boutique called West Egg (at first I thought the place was “Nest Egg” and it was a breakfast restaurant, but it seems that whoever Shane is working for was an F. Scott Fitzgerald fan and named it after Jay Gatsby’s town of residence) and her boyfriend Alex works at a brew-pub called Troy’s even though he’s a recovering alcoholic with 18 months’ continuous sobriety when the film begins. Things start to go off the rails when Shane runs into Connor Savage (Wes Cannon), who used to manage the rock band of Shane’s now-deceased rock-star father and who now says he’s opening a new music club called Godot (as in Waiting for … ) and will let Shane in as a partner if she can come up with $15,000 to invest. (If he’s been such a successful rock manager, why does he need $15,000 from a woman who’s working for a living, as is her partner?) Shane is so determined to get the money she’s literally willing to kill for it — remember, this is a woman who in the opening sequences was presented as the voice of reason compared to Heather, who is literally bipolar (didn’t I tell you Heather was bipolar? Director Jarrett uses this as an excuse for some really horrible “flanging” effects where it looks like he’s rewinding his videotape in mid-shot in an utterly failed attempt to depict Heather’s muddled mental state) and is so prone to massive rages that her ex-boyfriend Chase and the new woman he’s hooked up with, Melanie (Jenny Jennings), are able to achieve enough family stability they get Heather’s baby away from her.

Shane first seeks the money through legal means, but the bank turns her down and so does Alex’s father, whom both she and we have been led to believe had money but must have lost a lot during the recession or something, because when Shane goes to ask him behind Alex’s back he says they can’t swing it financially and patronizes her as he hangs up on her phone call. Both the bank and Alex’s dad turn her down, and the owner of Troy’s reneges on the promised raise he offered Troy, so Shane hits on the idea of stealing the money from the safe at Troy’s and making it look as if outside burglars were responsible. In the film’s best and quirkiest scene, Shane comes to the back room after hours at Troy’s and literally seduces Alex into going along with her plan, only Troy’s is so hurt by the loss that the owner has to let Alex go completely — and Alex responds to being laid off by falling off the wagon and starting to drink. As part of the burglary plot, Shane had smashed the laptop computer on which Troy’s stored its security-camera footage — only Heather saw Shane throwing the wreckage away in the home garbage, retrieved the laptop and turned it over to the police. Shane had hoped to have a hold over Heather by agreeing to testify for her as a character witness in her child-custody hearing against Chase — apparently it doesn’t seem to occur to her that she wouldn’t be much good as a character witness with a burglary charge hanging over her head — and when Heather instead recruits another woman who lives on the same block, Shane makes a homophobic remark that Heather is trusting a Lesbian over her. When she realizes that Heather isn’t going to be her alibi witness and is going to give the laptop to the police, Shane decides that Heather must be killed — and she recruits Alex into the plot, having him lure Heather to an abandoned church in the woods outside of town, which he can do because Heather is in decidedly unrequited love with him. (A guy who’s lost his job and fallen off the wagon, with no prospects and a fiercely jealous girlfriend — gee, Heather, you sure can pick ’em!) Once they’re there and Heather is convinced she and Alex are going to have sex at last, Shane shows up with a rifle, the three confront each other, Shane orders Alex to shoot Heather and, when Alex refuses, Shane does the job herself.

A postlude explains that Heather turned over the incriminating laptop — its screen and keyboard have been smashed beyond repair but apparently the hard drive, or enough of it, survived intact, and the damning evidence on it against Alex and Shane was recovered — and the two are arrested for the Troy’s burglary right when Shane has told Alex to marry her on the ground that legally wedded spouses can’t be compelled to testify against each other, and they’re having the wedding ceremonies with Heather, ironically, as the maid of honor. Ultimately Alex and Shane are popped not only for the burglary but the murder as well — Heather deposited the incriminating laptop to her long-suffering mother (Jessica Lemon Wilkinson) and she gave it to the police — and though the film depicts Shane as the prime mover behind the crime, including shooting Heather herself after Alex refused to, a final credit line says that in the true story that “inspired” this film, Alex got a sentence of life without parole for kidnapping someone with the intent to murder them, while Shane only got a 25-year sentence after she testified against him. The film opens after the body had been recovered (by a Law and Order-style guest body finder, an old man who’s stumbled across Heather’s remains in a creek near where she was murdered), though the framing scene is deliberately ambiguous to keep us from seeing who murdered whom and force us to watch the entire movie to find out. I Killed My BFF — a stupid title that another producer had already used in 2012 for a TV series — was originally called Neighbors, which would have been more ironic but not much better — and it’s a virtual compendium of Lifetime clichés in which virtually the only suspense is over which of the two girls in it (not women, girls — and they’re both so impossibly young and perky only the differences in styles and colors of their hair allow you to tell them apart) is going to turn out to be the (worse) psycho. About the only remotely reasonable people in this entire movie are Heather’s mom and Alex’s dad — and maybe Chase’s later girlfriend Melanie, who seems to have wrested a level of responsibility out of him Heather was utterly unable to get from him — and when all your main protagonists are this wretchedly unlikable you find yourself watching less a whodunit (or whosgonnadoit) than a whocareswhosgonnadoit.