Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Stolen Daughter (Odyssey Media/Lifetime, 2015)

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

The film was Stolen Daughter, which I had recorded on its “world premiere” showing on Lifetime some months ago — August 1, I believe, since the commercial breaks included a promo for the film Patient Killer, which I watched on its “world premiere” and commented on August 3. Lifetime movies generally run the gamut from surprisingly good to flawed but capable (which is what I had to say about Patient Killer) to entertaining trash to the depths. This one was somewhere between the entertaining trash and the depths, and judging from the page, which gave “Wilkins” as the last name of the central characters (considerably less risible than the one the filmmakers, director Jason Bourque and writers Sue Bourque — who I presume is Jason’s wife — and Daniel Winters finally came up with), the script went through some last-minute changes before it got filmed. Stolen Daughter contains two parallel plot lines. The main one centers around police detective Stacey Tipping (Andrea Roth) — see what I meant about the Bourques and Winters giving this character and everyone in her family a thoroughly silly last name? — who in the opening scene confronts a madman who’s kidnapped a teenage girl and is about to kill her because, as he explains, “She’s too beautiful to live.” Stacey and her partner, John Riley (Keith MacKechnie), corner the guy but are too late to save the girl’s life. Then Stacey wakes up in bed with her husband Jack (Steve Bacic, a considerably better-looking guy than usually plays Lifetime’s non-psycho leading men), and it turns out this is just a series of nightmares she’s been having reliving the incident, which got her forcibly put on medical leave even though she’s chafing at the bit and wants nothing more than to be put back on the force. Her superiors finally agree to let her return, but only part-time and only on desk duty.

Meanwhile, Martha Dixel (Rachel Hayward) is being paroled from prison after serving a four-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter; when she was involved in an auto accident and her husband and daughter Anna (seen in flashbacks and played by Erika Shave-Gair) were killed, she sought out the guy who’d done it and deliberately ran him down. As she’s released protesters outside the prison express their displeasure that she wasn’t convicted of murder and sentenced either to life imprisonment or the death penalty. No sooner is she outside the prison walls than she’s nearly run over by a guy in a van — he’s backing up and doesn’t see her — but the shock undoes all her rehabilitation and sends her back into her former crazy state: she’s convinced the van driver is her husband and their daughter is still alive. She steals the guy’s van and takes off, and by an incredible bit of coincidence-mongering the Bourques and Winters should have been ashamed of themselves over, Martha comes upon Stacey Tipping’s daughter Sarah (Sarah Dugdale) at a barbecue party — Sarah and the boy she’s interested in romantically have edged away from the party and are talking to each other on some swings when Martha comes upon them, insists that Sarah is her daughter Anna, pulls a gun on Sarah and kidnaps her. Martha drives away with Sarah in her stolen van, and the rest of the movie intercuts the plotline of Martha with Stacey Tipping’s kidnapped daughter and Stacey’s insistence on being allowed to work the case despite the insistence of the officer in charge, Detective Garcia (Curtis Caravaggio), that she doesn’t belong on the case. There’s some potential for ambiguity in the writing that the Bourques and Winters don’t take much advantage of — including one surveillance video shot in a convenience store (and containing audio, which these things usually don’t) in which Sarah seems to be playing up to Martha and Garcia immediately assumes she’s fallen victim to the Stockholm syndrome and gone Patty Hearst on them (Patty Hearst’s name is even mentioned on the soundtrack!), while Stacey angrily defends her daughter’s honor and insists she’s just playing along with Martha’s delusion for survival. (“Then she’s playing a really dangerous game,” Garcia and Riley insist.) It gets to the point where Garcia sets up an interview for Stacey with a reporter, telling her it will help if the TV audience gets to see the Grieving Mother, but the reporter’s first question is about how in Stacey’s last search for an abducted child the kid died, and what makes her think this one is going to turn out any differently? Stacey angrily walks out of the interview and, when Garcia admits he set it up to get her kicked off the case, she punches out her fellow cop and colleague.

Stacey is suspended from the force and has to turn in her badge and gun, but does that stop her? No-o-o-o-o, acting now more like an avenging mom than a cop, she browbeats a friend of Martha’s who spent time with her in prison (after nearly being walloped by the woman’s boyfriend, a club-wielding guy identified only as “Shirtless Junkie” and played by Colby Chartrand, who not surprisingly is the sexiest guy in the film!) and tricks her into giving away Martha’s likely hiding place — a cabin near a lake where the Dixel family used to go fishing before the catastrophe. She calls in the tip and of course the cops tell her to wait for backup, while, equally predictably, she doesn’t; armed with a gun she “borrowed” from the friend of Martha’s she interrogated al fresco, she confronts Martha directly, they have a gunfight (in which, incidentally, Stacey fires far more bullets than the gun she’s using — a six-shot revolver — is likely to contain) and, when Martha’s gun runs out of ammo they have a fight and They Both Reach for the Gun (Maurine Watkins, your plagiarism attorney thanks you for such a wonderfully reliable income stream), and as they’re struggling for it Sarah herself grabs a rock, clubs Martha with it and subdues her so she can be taken into custody when the other, still on-duty cops arrive. Stolen Daughter’s main problem is the sheer preposterousness of the plot — any story which depends so totally on coincidence as its driving force is going to have a hard time keeping the audience’s disbelief suspended — and it also doesn’t help that Andrea Roth and Rachel Hayward look so much alike, both being tall, thin blondes with long, willowy hair, that only when Jason Bourque moves in for a closeup can you really tell them apart (though at least that makes it more believable that Sarah Dugdale could be Roth’s daughter and Hayward’s character could mistake her for her daughter). That said, the performances of the women are by far the most powerful aspects of the movie — this is one Lifetime movie in which the gynocentricity of their plotting works to the film’s advantage, as the males in the movie are either boring or turds (or both). Still, there was a lot more potential in this premise than the Bourques and Winters realized — though there’s an in-joke of the kind that Lifetime is starting to run into the ground: in an early scene, before her own daughter is kidnapped, Stacey is at the police station running through computer files of missing girls, and one of them is named “Anna Bourque.”