Monday, July 13, 2015

Accidental Obsession (Hit Productions/Lifetime, 2015)

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

At 9 last night I watched another “world premiere” on Lifetime, Accidental Obsession, directed by George Erschbamer (by coincidence the Los Angeles Times yesterday contained yet another article asking why there aren’t more women directing films and noting that the percentage of major-studio releases directed by women is actually declining, and after watching two Lifetime movies directed by quite capable and talented women, Christie Will in Her Infidelity and Nancy Leopardi in Lethal Seduction, it was ironic in light of that article to be watching a quite inferior one made by a man) from a script by Jeffrey Barmash, Barbara Fixx and Kley Weber. It begins with one of Lifetime’s deliberately mysterious and enigmatic openings: blurry footage, partially decolorized to represent that it’s a flashback occurring well before the film’s main story, showing a woman with long black hair burying someone in the dead of night. Later we see the same woman in a mental hospital watching the news reports of attorney Heather Williams (Josie Davis), who has just won acquittal for her client in a controversial case. At first I thought the case was the murder trial of the woman we’d just seen and what Heather had done that was so controversial was won her an insanity acquittal and thereby sent her to a mental institution rather than prison or the lethal-injection table. But no-o-o-o-o, though we keep getting additional glimpses of that flashback it’s not until the movie is two-thirds over that we finally get an explanation of its significance. Heather has just scored an offer of partnership in her law firm, though that’s dependent on keeping a mega-bucks client named Eli (whom we never see) happy with her representation of him (it’s not stressed but there’s certainly a hint that Heather’s boss, whom we do see, expects her to have sex with Eli if that’s what it takes to keep Eli’s multi-million dollar account with the firm — or have I just seen too many 1930’s Warner Bros. movies with titles like She Had to Say Yes?). She’s also got an incredibly lovely home with a swimming pool Busby Berkeley could have staged an Esther Williams number in, and though she has the annoyance of an ex-boyfriend (he could be an ex-husband, but the writing committee wasn’t big on nailing down details like that) named Ray Johnson (Sebastian Spence, an O.K. Canadian actor I’ve seen before in Lifetime movies The Obsession — in which he played a psycho ballet teacher trying to get into the pants of an underage girl he’s coaching — and Stolen from the Womb, in which he played the sympathetic role of the husband whose wife has the titular baby … well, stolen from her womb, though according to his page he was in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica and science-fiction is his favorite genre), she also has a dreamboat of a current boyfriend, Jack Riley (Marc Menard), a private investigator who was formerly a CIA agent and who does work for Heather’s firm.

All this starts to unravel when Heather meets Vanessa (Caroline Cave) when she rear-ends Vanessa’s car; Vanessa pleads with Heather to pay for having the car fixed so she doesn’t have to deal with an insurance company or wait for the run-around to have her claim paid. Heather agrees and the two women strike an immediate friendship — given Heather’s naïveté it’s obvious she never watches Lifetime movies! — and when Vanessa pleads that she’s a travel writer but can’t find work in that job, Heather offers to find her employment either with her own firm or with Jack’s operation. Only when Heather’s assistant Lisa (Rukiya Bernard) — yet another African-American voice of reason trying to save the white characters in a Lifetime movie from their own stupidities — runs the driver’s license number Vanessa gave Heather back when they had their accident (you remember), the license that comes back describes a totally different woman, four inches taller and with dark hair. Jack Riley offers to interview Vanessa, ostensibly for a job but actually to check out her story and see if he can use his P.I. skills to find out who she really is, and eventually it turns out that her real name is Amanda and she killed her ex-boyfriend and the woman he was going to leave her for, was caught and put in the mental institution, then escaped when she saw Heather on TV being interviewed after her big case, and finally assumed the identity of the woman she killed — the cast list on lists Michelle Martin as playing “Real Vanessa” in that grim flashback of her as a corpse being buried. In an ending that’s a minor surprise (though not for regular viewers of Lifetime movies) it turns out that not only was Vanessa’s targeting of Heather not “accidental,” as the film’s title and the scene setting it up made it look, but Vanessa — really Amanda, though at one point she’s also referred to as Carla — specifically went after Heather because they went to high school together and Heather was successful both with schoolwork and with boys, and ignored Amanda and made her toweringly jealous, fueling her determination for revenge now.

In the end Heather and Amanda confront each other in Heather’s house (to which, early on, Amanda stole the key, so she could let herself in anytime) after Heather finds Amanda has baked her two pet birds in the oven (had the rec room in that mental institution contained a DVD copy of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) and is now determined to kill her with a chrome-plated gun that looked exactly like the one we’d just seen in Lethal Seduction (the same prop?). Amanda forces Heather to call Jack and invite him over, and when he arrives Amanda forces him to give up his own gun and seems determined to kill both of them and then assume Heather’s identity (earlier we’ve seen Amanda try on some of Heather’s designer outfits — and they fit perfectly even though Caroline Cave is four inches shorter than Josie Davis). Amanda shoots Jack in the chest three times and he falls, and then Heather gets the gun away from her. Amanda tries to club her with a tiki torch from Heather’s patio, the two stage a fight at the edge of Heather’s pool, and Jack — not dead after all since he had the foresight to wear Kevlar to Heather’s party — pushes Amanda into the pool and thinks he’s killed her. Then he calls the police, but while he’s waiting for them Amanda turns up alive after all for one final attempt to knock off our leads, and it ends with Heather and Jack safe and Amanda back in custody, muttering to herself that she broke out of one mental institution and can always do so again (are Erschbamer and the writing committee setting us up for a sequel?). After the genuine style with which Christie Will and Nancy Leopardi staged equally silly scripts in Her Infidelity and Lethal Seduction, respectively, Accidental Obsession is a return to the slovenliness of most Lifetime movies. It’s decently acted — especially, not surprisingly, by Caroline Cave as the villainess — but Erschbamer simply isn’t a good enough director to take the edge off this movie’s relentless over-the-top absurdity and Accidental Obsession becomes a chore to watch in ways Her Infidelity and Lethal Seduction weren’t. I didn’t think that watching three Lifetime movies in three days would leave me with an object lesson in why the movie industry needs to open more directing opportunities to women, but that’s what happened!