Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fatal Flip (Lifetime, 2015)

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

I watched last night’s Lifetime “world premiere,” a film called Fatal Flip, a pretty routine production from that channel — it was also shot under the working title The Fixer Upper but if Christine Conradt had written it (she didn’t, though it might have been better if she had!) she would have called it The Perfect Handyman. Jeff (Michael Steger) and Alex (Dominique Swain), a young (straight) couple who’ve been living together but have avoided even getting formally engaged, much less married (perhaps they’ve just got “engaged to be engaged,” like that couple in an insane marriage-and-family audio-visual film from Coronet in the 1950’s the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 people famously mocked), decide to take out a loan, buy a dilapidated house somewhere (this is nominally taking place in New England but, being a Lifetime production, it was almost certainly shot in Canada), fix it up themselves and then “flip” it — sell it to someone else for a higher price that will cover the loan and their expenses. Only because of the terms of the loan, if they can’t finish the job and resell the house in 45 days they’re going to be socked with heavy interest penalties and will lose so much on the deal they’ll probably have to declare bankruptcy. They quickly realize they’re in over their heads on the repair job, and one day at the analogue of Home Depot in this fictional world they run into Nick (Mike Faiola), an all-purpose handyman.

Jeff cuts a deal with Nick to hire him to help them with the remodel in exchange for a share of the profits they expect from flipping the house, and since he’s homeless part of the deal is that he can live in the house while they do the job. There seem to be only two other significant characters, both women: the realtor (or is that “RealtorTM”?) who sold them the house (unidentified, at least this early, on’s cast list), and Alex’s friend Roslyn (Tatiana Ali — the only cast member I’ve heard of before), whose plot function is obscure but who at least provides some nice eye candy for any straight guys who might be watching this. Both the women are instantly attracted to Nick and they even make a bet with each other over who can get him first, but Nick is casting lascivious eyes at Alex and challenging her to go to bed with him just to prove she wants something more than the boring life she’s trying to escape (both she and Jeff worked at a law firm and turned in their notices simultaneously to take their flyer into fixer-upper-land). Of course, being a reasonably attractive man in a Lifetime movie, he’s also got other quirks: we see him having phone conversations with a woman with whom he’s presumably in cahoots in some sort of scheme that involves latching on to a young couple attempting to fix up and “flip” a house, joining their project, acing them out of the house and killing them in the process. (In the “teaser” opening we’ve seen Nick sealing up a wall in a previous project and we hear the muffled screams of the woman he’s sealed up inside — so at one point writers Maureen Bharoocha, who also directed, and Ellen Huggins had read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and decided it would be fun to do that plot twist in a modern context.)

It’s only at the end that we learn Nick was only having those phone calls in his imagination; he was really a carpenter who lost his own house via foreclosure and responded by freaking out, killing his wife by suffocating her with a piece of plastic sheeting, sealing her in the walls of the house he was being forced to vacate, and setting off in search of other people with whom he can relive this scenario. Alex’s Black friend Roslyn exits about two-thirds of the way through when she lets Nick take her up to his redoubt in the house’s attic and fuck her brains out, only in the morning she wakes up before he does and finds a business card of his with another name on it; she goes on a (fictitious) Internet search engine and digs up the truth about Nick, but when (like a stupid character in a 1930’s movie) she confronts him directly — she’s gone to the house hoping to warn Jeff and Alex, but that’s the night they’ve picked to do a “date night” and so Nick is the only one there — he smothers her in a big piece of plastic sheeting and leaves her body in the basement for later disposal. It creaks to a close when Nick makes an outright pass at Alex, she turns him down, Jeff gives Nick a week’s notice, then Nick spies on Alex through a crack in the walls as she’s taking a bath (using an elaborate plumbing fixture from the house’s original 19th century equipment Nick had successfully restored) and comes in on her while she’s naked in the tub. Naturally she resists, and just then Jeff comes in on them and orders Nick off the property immediately. Nick responds by sneaking into their circuit breakers and breaking them all so the house’s electrical power will cut out and they’ll be unable to turn it back on — and when they go into the basement to fix it, he’s waiting for them with murderous intentions. Only somehow Jeff and Alex are able to overpower him and Alex smothers him in the plastic sheeting, but isn’t able to kill him; while they’re waiting for the cops to arrive he manages to escape, and the final shot is of him in another city (but still dressed in the same plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans he was wearing when he was introduced), approaching another young man in a big hardware store to pull the scam again …  

Fatal Flip is a pretty straightforward Lifetime movie, neither as bad as some of them nor as good as others, and though director Bharoocha gets some nice Gothic effects during the silent scenes in which Nick is sinisterly stalking Jeff and Alex through the crumbling old pile they’re trying to restore into something saleable, she’s hamstrung by the weaknesses of her cast. By far the best sequence is the marvelous soft-core porn scene between Nick and Roslyn — and its interracial aspect just adds a thrilling frisson — staged in such a way that suggests he’s just one of those stick-it-in-and-get-off kinds of guys who is out for his own pleasure no matter how much he roughs up his partner in the process, while she seems happy with him that way, the rougher the better. (It’s interesting that we get this subtle and dramatic insight into her sexual desires when we learn virtually nothing about what she’s like outside the bedroom.) It doesn’t help that Mike Faiola as Nick is a reasonably attractive man but hardly the drop-dead gorgeous babe-magnet the script tells us he is, or that as his rival Jeff Michael Steger looks like the result of a bizarre genetic experiment that attempted to cross-breed Harry Langdon and Tim Allen. (He’s actually got a nice bod — and in the basket-to-basket department he seems better hung than Faiola — but his face is pretty homely and too undefined to sit on top of the rest of him.) I can’t really tell you how good these people are as actors since the script doesn’t require much from them in the way of acting, but I suspect there’s a reason Tatiana Ali is the only cast member here you’re likely to have heard of before!