Monday, November 16, 2015

A Mother Betrayed (Feifer Worldwide, Lifetime, 2015)

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

Our “feature” last night was another “world premiere” on Lifetime, Michael Feifer’s (he’s one of four producers listed as well as director and writer, and the studio is called “Feifer Worldwide” — other studios that make bad movies may call themselves “International,” but his is “Worldwide”!) A Mother Betrayed. The mother who gets betrayed is Monica Hooper (Lynn Collins), who as the film begins is at the beach with her husband Jonathan (David Paetkau, who looks barely old enough to have graduated from high school but is supposed to be his wife’s partner in an up-and-coming architectural firm) when she tells him she’s pregnant and they take a rather grotesque-looking “selfie” of themselves on the beach as he responds to the good news. Alas, on their way back from the beach their car is run off the road by a mysterious driver and Jonathan is killed (and the shot of his corpse on the road is a singularly unconvincing one that looks like Feifer did it with a doll he bought at Toys ’r Us). Monica is taken to a hospital and it’s unclear what happens to her for the next nine months or so, since the next time we see her she’s in a hospital bed having just given birth to a daughter. We’re told by Monica’s mother Barbara (a first-rate performance by veteran actress Joanna Cassidy) that the doctors had to give her an emergency C-section to get the baby out, and since her daughter was hors de combat Barbara chose to name the girl Maddy. Then comes one of Lifetime’s usual titles to announce the passage of time, “Four Years Later,” and four years later Monica is the head of a multi-million dollar architectural firm bidding for projects in Australia, Tokyo and Dubai as well as Seattle (where she takes a two-day trip and we see a stock shot of the Space Needle to establish “Seattlicity”). Somehow she has managed to work herself as well as her principal associates into virtual exhaustion and build this fantastic business even while also suffering from crippling migraines and nightmares that frequently flash her back to That Night. Her principal assistant Lisa (Bree Williamson) suggests that it’s time for her to start dating again, and at a party Monica is throwing at her home for her firm and its (local) clients the seemingly right man turns up: Kevin Richardson (Adam Kaufman), who seems reasonably attractive without the level of drop-dead gorgeousness that generally signals villainy in the Lifetime iconography.

It turns out that Kevin is a villain, though; he’s part of a plot cooked up by Lisa to drive Monica crazy and take over her firm. We began to suspect this as soon as we saw the sinister glint in Lisa’s eyes as she watched Monica run things at the office, but it takes over an hour of running time before Feifer finally lets us in not only on what the plot is but also how Lisa and Kevin are connected. Monica is madly in love with Kevin, whom she not only marries but allows to legally adopt Maddy (who, in a common casting dodge, is played by identical twins Ariella and Isabella Nurkovic — it’s standard practice to cast an important child role with twins to get around the limitations on how long a child performer can work; one twin plays some scenes and the other twin plays others, so the director gets enough screen time for the character without breaking the law on how long each child can work). Then, about an hour and 10 minutes into this two-hour (less commercials) movie, Monica stumbles on an old photo showing Kevin and Lisa with her late husband Jonathan (ya remember her late husband Jonathan?) and she catches on to the whole scheme. Well, most of it, anyway; what she doesn’t realize is that Kevin is spiking her food with a drug of his own invention that is causing her to black out, have memory lapses and hallucinate (including one scene in which she imagines Jonathan in the car with her, telling her to “join him,” and for a brief moment I wondered if he was a real person, an actor Kevin and Lisa had hired to impersonate Jonathan and get Monica to commit suicide). Monica has complained about this to Lisa, and Lisa has recommended she see a psychiatrist, Dr. Sommers (Cain Coley) — who, aside from coming off like Nurse Ratched in her later career, is also part of the plot, as is Kevin’s attorney Jerry (John Griffin, whom we get some nice topless views of while he’s hanging out with Kevin and Maddy at Monica’s home — he is the sexiest guy in this film!), though they’re getting restive about when Kevin and Lisa are going to pay them off and whether their participation is really worth risking their licenses to practice.

Meanwhile, Barbara and Monica’s dad Harry (Richard Cox) are starting to figure things out — at one point they try to take Maddy away from Lisa and Kevin intervenes and comes close to strangling Barbara — and eventually it ends with Monica stealing Dr. Sommers’ cell phone and using it to record Kevin confessing all, including the revelation that Lisa is his wife (but then how could Kevin inherit Monica’s firm if his “marriage” to Monica is bigamous? If she’s declared mentally incompetent, control would pass to her parents! Or were we supposed to believe Kevin and Lisa had done a divorce of convenience before he married Monica?), and an exciting action scene in which Monica escapes from the hospital in Kevin’s SUV, Kevin carjacks a white Jeep and gives chase, and the police chase both of them until Kevin loses control of his vehicle and drives it off a cliff, while Lisa is arrested. A Mother Betrayed had the makings of a good Lifetime movie, but whereas another Lifetime writer like Christine Conradt would have made it both more suspenseful and more dramatically credible — she would have had Monica pick up little hints that led her gradually to realize all was not as it seemed with her and her “dreamboat” husband, and given Lynn Collins more of a chance to act internal conflict over whether she should keep trusting him or not — Feifer gave her one “Rosebud” moment that turns her instantly from trusting patsy to aware victim. Still, it’s a nicely done thriller, well acted (especially by Collins and Bree Williamson as Lisa — along with old-pro Joanna Cassidy, who it seems would give a great performance no matter what she was getting from the director’s chair) and reasonably entertaining even if severely weakened by the far-fetched plot devices Feifer relied on to power his script — and, as I’m fond of saying about not-so-good movies made by writer-directors, since the director was also the writer he has no one to blame but himself!