Last night’s “world premiere” movie on Lifetime was surprisingly good even though, like Her Infidelity, it was a case of a highly talented director (Nancy Leopardi this time) triumphing over a rather silly and formulaic script (by Roger Stigliano and Michael Waite). The film was called Lethal Seduction and it was a descendant of virtually every femme fatale movie ever made, starting with the first one, 1915’s A Fool There Was with Theda Bara and Edward José, though I think Messrs. Stigliano and Waite were most directly inspired, shall we say, by the enormous success of Fifty Shades of Grey both as a book and a film, and one of them must have said to the other, “Hey! Let’s do Fifty Shades of Grey with the genders reversed!” This time the innocent young victim who gets caught in the heartless seducer’s lethal web is Mark Richards (a particularly luscious-looking hunk of man-meat named Caleb Ruminer, who did a lot more for me than the hairless, boyish twink type usually does — and who was photographed by director Leopardi and cinematographer Andrew Russo to get maximum production value out of his smooth, flat chest and prominent nipples; he probably has as much screen time shirtless as he does fully clad!). Mark has just graduated from high school and been accepted at Princeton as a computer science major, and it’s established early on he’s a whiz at coding. He’s also got a relentlessly overprotective mother, Tanya Richards (top-billed Amanda Detmer, who used to play the victim in these Lifetime “pussies in peril” melodramas and now was cast as the victim’s mom, a fact which made one imdb.com message board contributor feel old).
When Mark and his friend Walter (Sam Lerner), who claims to know all the secrets of how to pick up girls and knows far less than he pretends (and who’s a stocky schlub sidekick type, though we get a few look-sees at his hairless chest and, though he’s hardly in Caleb Ruminer’s class for looks, he’s not someone most straight women or Gay men would chase out of bed, either!), takes advantage of a night mom is going out on a date (a platonic one) with a friend named Randy (Brian Smith), who’s been comforting her ever since Mark’s dad died a decade earlier and been hoping for a sexual, romantic or familial relationship with her but been too scared to make the first move, to bring over two young women so both Mark and Walter can get laid, Leopardi cuts to a scene of Tanya and Randy at the restaurant where they’re having dinner. Randy is hinting that perhaps what Mark most needs is an adult male role model — of course it’s his oblique way of suggesting that Tanya should marry him and let him become Mark’s stepfather — and Tanya says, “I’ve already taken care of that.” In the next scene we get a grimly funny view of how Tanya has taken care of that: a deacon from the Richards’ church shows up, interrupts any sexual or alcoholic hanky-panky those teenagers might have been up to, and announces that for the rest of the evening he will lead them in a game of “Biblical trivia.” The next morning, Tanya tells her son that the deacon had a great time at their home the night before, and Mark mutters under his breath, “Well, I’m glad someone did.” Fate (or scriptorial fiat) steps in when Tanya sends Mark to a hardware store to replace an ill-fitting towel rack she bought there earlier, and Mark runs into Carissa Kensington (Dina Meyer), the female Alexander Grey of this story. Carissa is looking for a new shower head and is confused about the statistics on the packages, and Mark offers to help her select a new one. She offers him a ride home if he’ll first stop by her place and install the shower head she selected on his advice, and when he gets there and puts it in she invites him to join her in the shower so they can try it out … together. By the first commercial break she’s managed to get him to fuck her, first in the shower and then in her bed, and he’s completely besotted and when he finally gets home to mommy is very much the worse for wear. When we come back from the commercial break mom notices that her son is considerably happier than his recent norm, and for some reason she regards this as a bad thing; she cross-examines him and asks if he’s on drugs. Mark’s torrid fling with Carissa continues and escalates — as shown by some of the hottest soft-core porn Lifetime has ever shot, including one delectably exciting scene in which Carissa handcuffs Mark to the entry railing of her swimming pool and has him fuck her under water. The gimmick is that the closer she gets to orgasm, the lower she sinks in the pool and the harder it gets for him to breathe — though when they’re done with an experience that has clearly scared him while he was going on, he says, “That was intense,” as if he liked it overall and wanted her to do more kinky stuff with him.
Mark’s mom finally gets wind that her son is dating a woman her age instead of his, and she comes to Carissa’s palatial home — a fascinating bit of modern architecture for the 1 percent (inherited from Carissa’s late husband, an investment broker for movie stars — yes, this all takes place in L.A. — and we briefly see a Web page that hints she killed him for his money, though that’s one of those hints the writers just drop casually and then never follow through on) that is virtually a character in the film itself — to confront her and get her to leave her son alone. Of course, she’s as overmatched as I would be across the line from a professional football team’s front four! Carissa tells Tanya to give up and let her son grow up — advice she’s also been getting from Randy, albeit in a less confrontational and hostile way — and the next time Tanya and Randy discuss Mark, Randy tries to get her to back off on being so controlling and Tanya instead decides to steal Mark’s cell phone and fake an e-mail message from Melanie (Tessa Harnetiaux), the girl Mark’s age who was over at their place earlier and whom Tanya sent the church deacon with the Bible trivia game to interrupt anything that might have gone on between them. Mark falls for it, takes Melanie on a (platonic) date, enjoys himself and is ready to dump Carissa in favor of his age-peer — only Carissa has been surveilling them the whole time and afterwards she sneaks into Melanie’s car, threatens to strangle her, tells her not to see Mark again and, for good measure, “warns” her of the consequences of disobedience by taking a camping knife and slashing Melanie’s cheek. Accordingly Melanie stops calling Mark and refuses to return Mark’s repeated calls — interestingly, perhaps because he’s supposed to have such fantastic computer skills, Mark makes all his phone calls from his laptop with a Skype-style video link to the person he’s calling — while Carissa tells Mark he needs to come over so he can pitch his proposed new app to a top executive for a major software company. Mark accordingly dresses in the hot new suit Carissa had bought him earlier (in a scene Stigliano and Waite clearly ripped off from the “After all, if the lady is paying … ” sequence in Sunset Boulevard in which Gloria Swanson buys her queasy boy-toy William Holden a new and snazzier wardrobe) and pitches the app — one which will follow the user around and offer him ads specifically tailored to what he’s doing and where he is at every moment. To me that seemed awfully Big Brother-ish — it reminded me of the sequence in Minority Report in which people are shown walking through a shopping mall and being addressed by name (the place is festooned with cameras attached to facial-recognition software so the computer running the system can identify each individual and program itself to speak to them directly) with pitches for new products they might be interested in. But we’re evidently supposed to think of this app as a work of genius whose only problem is another software company beat Mark to it by six months.
It ends in a finish so wildly over-the-top even Lifetime’s Mistress of Excess, Christine Conradt, would have been ashamed to write it: Carissa lures Mark to her place, knocks him out, ties him up inside her sauna and leaves him there for a full day (at least that’s what it says in the script; one would expect in real life he’d expire from the heat well before that), and when he comes to she’s in there with a poker, playing with it and using it to sear that beautiful alabaster chest of his just as earlier she’s taken her revenge on his other girlfriend by assaulting her and ruining her looks. Mark’s mom Tanya traces him there (she’s opened his laptop and figured out he went there, and since she’s already been there herself she knows the location) and Carissa greets her with a pair of handcuffs, telling her to put them on or she’ll never see Mark alive again. Carissa locks Tanya in the sauna and gives her a pistol which she says contains only one bullet, and she will only let Tanya out if she shoots either Mark or herself. Instead she shoots the gun into the floor and, when Carissa enters and sees her looking prone, Tanya suddenly comes to life and assaults her with what appear to be the sauna stones, which she’s used her own clothing to be able to pick up. The two women struggle, Carissa gets shoved face-down into the sauna rocks (thereby presumably ruining her good looks and making it impossible for her to attract any more innocent young men to her web), but Carissa gets the upper hand and looks ready to kill either Tanya, Mark or both when another person comes to her lair. The deus ex machina turns out to be Randy (ya remember Randy?), who works at an aquarium the characters have spent lots of time at previously (so Leopardi can give us lots of Dwain Esper-style shots of predatory fish, including sharks and sting rays, as a visual parallel to what Carissa is like as a human predator) and who has brought, as a weapon — are you ready for this? At first I thought he had shot Carissa with a harpoon, but it turned out it was a trident, a nicely honed symbol of Poseidon or Neptune the aquarium had on display, and which in an earlier “planting” scene we had been warned was sharp enough to hurt (or kill) someone for real. Randy takes out Carissa with the trident, Mark and Melanie end up driving cross-country together to go to college — he to Princeton and she to Columbia (the script portrays them as virtual next-door neighbors even though that still seemed to me a pretty hefty distance for two college freshmen to travel to see each other when most of their time would probably be spent studying) — and the hint that Tanya and Randy will finally get together as a couple now that her nest is empty.
Like Her Infidelity, Lethal Seduction is a story both derivative and silly, and it’s been done so many, many times before — from A Fool There Was (from which Stigliano and Waite borrow at least one scene — during Mark’s and Carissa’s first public date, while she’s gone off to use the bathroom, a former victim of Carissa’s comes over to Mark’s table and warns him, “She’s bad news. Get out while you have the chance”) to the 1995 TV-movie Seduced and Betrayed (with Susan Lucci as the seductress and David Charvet, an O.K.-looking guy but hardly at Caleb Ruminer’s almost ethereal level of male beauty, as the seducee: in my notes on that film I described Charvet as “great body, permanent three-day beard and — judging from the pathetic excuse for a basket he showed on screen — almost no dick,” which is certainly not the case for Ruminer!), but director Leopardi makes up for the silliness of the script with some great wordless storytelling — and no, I don’t just mean all that beautiful and exciting soft-core porn between the leads. There’s one marvelous scene of Dina Meyer staring into her mirror, all too aware that time is not on her side and is taking its toll on her looks, and ultimately smashing the mirror in frustration — and Leopardi’s sensitive direction even partially redeems that outrageously over-the-top ending. When Carissa has Mark tied up in her sauna Leopardi films Caleb Ruminer in a Christ-like pose, as if he’s being crucified — and when Tanya finally arrives and is locked in there with him, she caresses his chest, kisses his cheek and comes on more like a lover than a mother (the Oedipus complex in reverse! There’ve been documented cases of fathers seducing their daughters because as they matured sexually they reminded them of their long-deceased mothers, but not many stories, in life or in fiction, showing it going the other way!), until we realize that the only salvation for Mark is going to lie in getting both these crazy women out of his life and going to college with his age-peer girlfriend at the whole other end of the country! I must say there was a certain appeal to me watching a movie in which the drop-dead gorgeous adolescent male lead was playing a character with my name, and the character of his on-screen mother was all too reminiscent of my real mom!
 — I remember when Seduced and Betrayed first aired I wanted to watch it mainly because there’d been so much talk about her being passed over for an Emmy Award for her 41-year run (1970 to 2011) on the TV soap opera All My Children I was curious to get a chance to see her without having to endure a soap. Once I saw it I said to myself, “Of course Susan Lucci has never won an Emmy — she can’t act!”