Sunday, September 6, 2015

River Raft Nightmare (Hybrid/New Monogram/Lifetime, 2015)

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

Last night’s Lifetime “world premiere” was an odd production written, produced and directed by David Olen Ray (though two other people, Jeffrey Schenck and Peter Sullivan, are credited with the “original story” Ray adapted into his script) called River Raft Nightmare, though listed on under the title Eyewitness — apparently this was the working title but it wouldn’t given much of an idea of what the film was actually about. It’s about Sharon (Brigid Brannagh), 30-something mother of rambunctious teenager Cassie (Leah Bateman), whom she’s been raising as a single mom since her husband, Cassie’s father, left her eight months before the story begins. Since then Sharon has sold the river-country cabin her ex bought for the family’s vacation home, but she’s nostalgic enough for old times that she decides to do a river-rafting trip, which is supposed to be a seven-hour day trip — just rowing a rubber raft from one end of the river to the other while the staff of the raft-rental company drives your car to the end of the river so it will be there, waiting for you, when you arrived. The company previously operated a shuttle to get its customers back to where they parked, but the official in charge — a teddy bear-ish blond named Ed (Scott Thomas Reynolds) — explains that they discontinued that service but will leave the car at the end of the river instead, and in case you don’t want to take your keys with you for fear they’ll be lost in the river, they’ll be placed on the driver’s side rear tire so you can fetch them. At the same time, three convicts — ringleader Frank (the genuinely hot Ivan Sergei), bad-ass Cole (Tim Abell) and boyish Jimmy (Daniel Booko), have recently escaped from the local prison and are hunting down the fourth member of their gang, Jesse (Bob Bragg), who escaped the rap and hid the $500,000 they stole from an armored car.

As if that isn’t enough to keep the old plot pot boiling, Cassie is also a diabetic who presumably goes into insulin shock during the journey (which she’s making under duress anyway; through the whole first part of the movie, about all Leah Bateman gets to do to play her is pout), and there’s also a forest fire sweeping the woods around the river that forces the local sheriff, Lee Decker (Perry King), to fly helicopters across the region with speakers broadcasting messages to any people in the area that they need to evacuate. Decker isn’t on the scene — he’s leaving the search for the convicts to his drop-dead gorgeous male deputy, regrettably unidentified in’s cast list — because he’s ministering to his daughter, who’s enough of a chip off the old block that she went into the fire to rescue several people and got them out but is in the hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation. The convicts themselves briefly run into Sharon and Cassie at the general store where the women are buying provisions for the trip — Cassie, in a plot twist that probably had Ray congratulating himself for the irony of it all, points to bad-ass convict Frank (though of course she doesn’t know that about him yet!) as the sort of man her mom ought to be dating, while Jimmy seems to be casting doe-eyes at Cassie herself — and it’s hinted that the middle-aged woman who owns the store is the wife of the third convict, Cal, though almost nothing is made of that hint after it’s dropped. The first, more mild part of the river-rafting trip goes O.K., but Cassie drops her backpack in the water (mom tried to warn her to put it on, but did she listen? No-o-o-o-o) and dives in after it to retrieve her smartphone. She finds the device but also sees Frank and Cal corner Jesse and Frank pull a gun (and Cal a knife) on him to get him to reveal where he hid the loot. Alas, Frank and Cal spot her, and she leans over Jesse just long enough for him to give her the secret — he whispers one word, “Sawmill,” before he croaks, and Sharon and Cassie know (though the crooks don’t) there’s an old abandoned sawmill on the bank of the river along the rafting route. Frank, Cal and Jimmy commandeer the raft Sharon and Cassie were using and order the two women to take them down the rest of the river, first to the sawmill (where they find the money absurdly easily in a flimsy pink backpack that doesn’t look big enough to hold half a million dollars in currency) and then to the end.

They tie up Sharon at the sawmill but she escapes, only to be recaptured, and one frustration of this film is that Fred Olen Ray filled his cast list with hot-looking guys, only to kill off all of them, the good guys as well as the bad ones. Ed, the teddy bear-ish blond who rented Our Heroines the raft, gets blown away when he encounters the five mid-river and keeps insisting that he wants to check up on them, ignoring all Sharon’s hints that he should just get out of there and leave them alone because she knows what’s likely to happen to him if he keeps insisting on hanging around and/or reporting their plight to the authorities. Jimmy, the one gang member with a conscience whom Sharon and Cassie briefly think they’ve got to change sides, gets offed by Frank just as he’s about to escape with the two women and the loot, intending to turn himself in and ask for mercy. Even the hot sheriff’s deputy bites the big one from Frank’s gun at the end — only mom Sharon, herself wounded by another shot from Frank, somehow manages to grab the deputy’s gun and shoot Frank dead with it. River Raft Nightmare is a movie heavily, shall we say, “borrowed” from previous city-slickers-in-mortal-peril on a wild river, including Deliverance and the 1994 Curtis Hanson film The River Wild, which sounded like Hollywood’s attempt to take the Great Actress Meryl Streep down a peg by casting her as the heroine of a very ordinary actioner. I’ve never seen either of the predecessors, but according to one message board contributor, River Raft Nightmare is a virtual scene-for-scene remake of The River Wild, down to one of the baddies tying one of the women to the raft with her shoelaces to make sure she doesn’t escape. River Raft Nightmare is an O.K. thriller, pretty predictable and lacking any of the kinky rapes (or near-rapes) we expect — Jimmy rather bashfully looks at Cassie but he seems too shy either to ask her for consensual sex or rape her— obviously Lifetime didn’t want to risk an adults-only rating from the TV censors!