Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stalked by My Doctor (Shadowland, Johnson Production Group, Lifetime, 2015)

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

Last night I watched the most recent “world premiere” on Lifetime, Stalked by My Doctor, which begins with an opening scene in which Dr. Albert Beck (Eric Roberts, Jr.), a basically attractive man physically but one on whom the years have not been too kind — his face has acquired a cragginess much like Ted Cassidy’s makeup as Lurch the butler on the 1960’s TV show The Addams Family — is receiving a dear-John call from his latest girlfriend, who says she no longer wants to see him because he’s too maniacally controlling. He responds by getting into his car and pushing the speedometer to 115 miles per hour, until we cut to another set of characters: high-school seniors Sophie Green (Brianna Joy Chomer) and her boyfriend Ryan (Carson Boatman, who looks dorky in his introduction scene but gets better-looking as the film progresses and his character matures), both of whom — along with their friends Caitlin (Wyntergrace Williams) and her boyfriend Eddie (Devon Libran) — are obsessing about what college they’ll get into. Though this movie is set in southern California (just where in Southern California is maddeningly unclear in writer-director Doug Campbell’s script), for some reason Sophie has applied to, and is accepted by, Whittendale University, a key part of the fictional universe in which the films Ken Sanders’ Shadowland and the Johnson Production Group make for Lifetime (yes, this takes place in the same world as The Surrogate, Dirty Teacher and Sugar Daddies). Ryan is driving himself and Sophie when his phone rings to indicate he’s got a text, and of course being an adolescent idiot he tries to receive and reply to the text without stopping the damned car — it’s about how he’s just been offered a soccer scholarship to USC — only the car crashes and both Ryan and Sophie suffer severe injuries. (It’s unclear from Campbell’s direction and Clayton Woodhull’s editing whether the car they crashed into — or which crashed into them, that isn’t clear either — is Dr. Beck’s, though if we were meant to believe that this would be an even kinkier movie than it is.) The two young lovebirds are taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital, where cardiac super-surgeon Dr. Beck is on duty and immediately takes charge of Sophie’s case. It seems that Ryan is fine — except his leg has been permanently injured and therefore his college athletic career is over before it started (which we get is the retribution he deserves in Campbell’s universe for texting while driving) — but Sophie’s heart has been desperately injured and she needs an immediate super-operation from, you guessed it, incredibly successful and well-regarded cardiac surgeon Dr. Albert Beck. Once he sees Sophie in the hospital room he’s immediately smitten with her to the point of obsession — he even kisses her while she’s under anesthesia the way McTeague did to Trina in Stroheim’s Greed — and Sophie, who wasn’t totally “under” at the time, has a dim memory of it that’s the first intimation she and her parents Jim (Jon Briddell) and Barbara (a quite good avenging-angel performance by Crystal Allen) have that all’s not quite “right” between the doctor and their daughter.

As the film progresses Dr. Beck’s conduct gets more and more psychotic: he briefly steers his attentions from Sophie to date a 38-year-old (and therefore more age-appropriate) woman he’s met online, only when on their first dinner date he sits across from her at the table and says he’s about to retire to a villa in Cabo San Lucas and he wants to take her there, marry her and have kids with her, she freaks out at his forwardness and, instead of acting the way Barbara Stanwyck did to Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity — cold-bloodedly saying, “Hold on. There’s a speed limit in this town,” she gets up to leave and he loses it in the restaurant, calling her a “bitch” for not immediately taking him up on his offer, chasing her outside and even banging on her car as she drives by. Then he goes into yet another one of his anger fits — which reminded me of how I used to behave when I totally lost my temper, though he got even crazier than I ever did — trashing garbage in an alley and screaming that he’s a doctor and therefore he’s entitled to love and companionship from any woman he asks for it. (Much of this movie really did remind me of the old joke, “What do you call a man who thinks he’s God? A schizophrenic. What do you call a man who knows he’s God? A doctor.”) He redoubles his efforts to get into Sophie’s life — and her pants — including “accidentally” running into her and Caitlin at the mall at a coffee shop and offering to take Sophie to a movie. In line with the other productions from Shadowland and Johnson — Ken Sanders, who appears to have created the “Whittendale” universe and wrote the initial scripts in it, though he’s credited here as just one of four producers, probably established this device as de rigueur in every one of their obsessive love tales — we get periodic scenes in which it looks like Dr. Beck has successfully seduced Sophie and they’re about to do the down-’n’-dirty, but those are only his fantasies. Stalked by My Doctor — the sort of clinically accurate but, well, clinical title Lifetime seems to like to pick for its movies — just gets weirder and weirder, and the moment it slides over from overwrought thriller to total high camp is when Dr. Beck breaks into the Greens’ home when he thinks no one is there so he can sneak into Sophie’s bedroom, rearrange her pillows, get into her bed and presumably jack off. Only before he can do that Sophie comes home with her boyfriend Ryan, whom she briefly broke up with because she (not entirely unjustly) blamed him for her accident but with whom she’s ready to kiss (and do a lot more than that!) and make up. So Ryan and Sophie have sex while the hugely important and successful cardiac surgeon watches them from his vantage point in a hall closet, then sneaks out as best as he can after Ryan leaves. It gets even loonier when, in an attempt to break Sophie and Ryan up, Dr. Beck steals Ryan’s cell phone when Ryan is being treated by another doctor and uses it to send Sophie a text saying he (Ryan) isn’t going to date her anymore because the scar on her chest from her surgery makes her look like the Bride of Frankenstein. (And it didn’t even do anything to her hair!)

Wanting to get Sophie to himself once and for all, Dr. Beck decides to make it look like Sophie has died in yet another car crash — only the body, burned beyond recognition when the wreckage is discovered, is of a “Jane Doe” Beck abstracted from the hospital’s corpse stash — while he kidnaps Sophie and ties her to a bed, where he intends to hold her until she goes Stockholm and genuinely falls in love with him. She briefly plays up to him but only to get him to untie her, whereupon she grabs a knife and stabs him, but she only grazes him, he overpowers her and ties her up again, where in a finale Doug Campbell seems to have ripped off from the movie Boxing Helena (one of those films that a lot of people have heard about but few have actually seen), he threatens to operate on her then and there to remove her legs, so she can’t try to escape; remove her arms, so she can’t try to attack him; and remove her tongue and vocal cords, so she can’t cry out for help. He’s actually laying out the instruments for this operation when Sophie comes to, manages to escape and makes her way to the memorial service being held for her (just like a 19th century opera!), whereupon someone must have reported all this to the cops because the next scene shows two uniformed detectives breaking into Dr. Beck’s home — which they find empty; the bad doctor has flown the coop and in a final tag scene is in Cabo, where he’s chatting up a Mexican waitress in Spanish even while assuring her that he’s not ready to order yet because he’s expecting someone to join him … and we’re left wondering whether he’s become so delusional he’s really expecting Sophie or he’s got some other pigeon in Mexico for his next dysfunctional relationship. As silly as this one is — other Lifetime movies have stretched the suspension of disbelief to a taffy pull; this one shatters it and makes it seem like Doug Campbell, to paraphrase the famous quote from Lewis Carroll, believes he has to write at least six impossible things before breakfast — it’s got one saving grace: the full-blooded characterization written by Campbell, and vividly played by Eric Roberts, as the psycho doctor. While through much of the movie one wonders why no one at the hospital notices how crazy he is — are we supposed to believe he’s so good at compartmentalization he can be a busy and professionally responsible doctor[1] when he’s working and a bonkers S.O.B. when he isn’t? — Campbell’s script and direction gives Roberts the space he needs to create a relentless and truly frightening villain character whose unforgettable man-you-love-to-hate appeal projects not only the psychopathology of his personality but the arrogance that’s been overlaid on it by what profession he’s chosen and how good he is at it, to the point where by the end of the movie he’s literally telling Sophie that, having saved her life, he now has it in his potential to take it. By all normal standards, Stalked by My Doctor is a perfectly terrible movie even for Lifetime, but Roberts’ acting gives it a sort of irresistibility and camp appeal.

[1] — Though there’s one aspect in which he’s not professionally responsible: at no time during the movie, even when he’s preparing for surgery or rubbing ointment into Sophie’s wound, is he shown wearing medical gloves.