Monday, February 8, 2016

The Wrong Roommate (Hybrid/Rapid Heart Pictures/Lifetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime film was part of a sequence called “The Wrong _____ ” — a way, I guess, for lesser Lifetime writers and directors (writer Matthew Jason Walsh and director David DeCoteau, in this case — DeCoteau’s general interests can be summed up on the page for this film which lists some of his other credits: Devilish Charm, 3 Scream Queens — about three nubile young women who work as horror-film actors and find themselves face-to-face with a menace similar to the fictional ones in their films — Sorority Slaughterhouse, Teen Warlock, which for some reason lists as a “comedy,” and Evil Exhumed) to troll the same territory Christine Conradt plowed in her “The Perfect _____ ” movies. This one was called The Wrong Roommate and the central character — what Maureen Dowd would call the “pussy in peril” — is Laurie Valentine (Jessica Morris). Laurie is a college English and creative writing teacher who as the movie begins has just broken up with her fiancé, young hot-shot defense attorney Mark (William McNamara — I was watching this with my friend Brendan and he actually knew this actor; years ago he was working at Brendan’s now-deceased partner Billy’s restaurant/bar in New York City and telling everyone around him of his ambition to be an actor, and out of all the waiters who say they want to be actors, he actually made it, at least as far as a part in the Bette Midler remake of Stella Dallas and a career of unimpressive but at least frequent credits, until he turns up now as second lead on a Lifetime film), who, to put it mildly, doesn’t take rejection well.

She dumped Mark because he caught him cheating on her with another woman (in a modern-day film the gender of the person he was cheating with has to be specified!) but he doesn’t want to let her go. Unable to find another place immediately, Laurie accepts the offer from her sister (whom we never see) to house-sit her nice place in an affluent part of town (it’s not clear just where all this is taking place), though that will also mean looking after Laurie’s niece Janice (Dominique Swain) and putting up with Alan Cypher (Jason-Shane Scott), the hot-looking but mysterious man who’s renting the guest house on the property. For the first half-hour or so Brendan and I were trying to figure out which set of Lifetime clichés they were going for here — he was convinced Mark would kill Alan in a fit of jealousy or something, while I was convinced Alan would turn out to be the bad guy (in Lifetime movies it almost never happens that a hot, hunky piece of man-meat is a good guy — usually the more attractive the Lifetime male, the worse villain he turns out to be; and Scott, shown with his shirt off quite often and revealing a great set of pecs some of the women in the cast were probably either drooling over or wishing they had, fit the usual bill for a black-hearted Lifetime male villain). Later we see a mysterious phone call between Alan and an unseen other party, which gave away the twist: Alan and Mark are both bad guys. “Alan” is really an ex-con Mark hired to romance his ex, then break up with her and so devastate her emotionally she’d come back to Mark — and as part of the plan Alan has rigged up a secret camera in Laurie’s bedroom and used it to film Laurie stripping for bed. Only “Alan,” who Mark has carefully set up to look like an artist, complete with works Mark actually ripped off from the portfolio of a now-deceased graduate student from 20 years earlier, decides he really wants Laurie after all and kills Mark by hitting him with a blunt object.

He also goes after Floyd (Eric Roberts — and it’s odd to see him as a good guy after his bravura villain portrayal in his last Lifetime credit, the clinically titled but quite good Stalked by My Doctor), a colleague of Laurie’s at college, who first stumbles onto Alan’s “artistic” masquerade (he recognized the real student’s works from 20 years before) and then starts researching the background of the mysterious “Alan Cypher” (giving him a last name that is a synonym for “zero” is by far the most artful touch in Walsh’s otherwise workmanlike but not especially inspired script) and stumbles onto at least part of the plot. Alas, Alan catches him at it and attacks Floyd, later loading him into his car and driving it off a mountain road, attaching a forged note to make it look like Floyd committed suicide. Fortunately, Floyd survives the assault and the staged car crash, and is ultimately found and taken to the hospital, battered and in and out of consciousness but still alive. Meanwhile Alan, for reasons that remain pretty ambiguous, attempts to blackmail Laurie (into doing what?) by kidnapping her niece Janice (ya remember her niece Janice?), leading to an action sequence in which Alan, or whatever his real name is, gets his comeuppance (I was having a hard time staying awake for the last half-hour and I’m not sure I remember it all) — and, surprisingly, there isn’t the usual tag scene pairing Our Heroine with some nice man who’ll make her forget about the other two males of the human species that did her so terribly wrong. (I was rather hoping she’d hook up either with Floyd or the burglar-alarm installer we saw in one sequence — Alan had staged a phony burglary in Laurie’s house to make it seem like Mark was still stalking her — who was played by African-American actor Jerrell Pippens, a former football player who despite the brevity of his part I found even hotter than Jason Shane-Scott!) The Wrong Roommate is a perfectly serviceable Lifetime movie, better than some, worse than some, squarely in the middle of their output, neither shiningly good like Restless Virgins nor shockingly (but campily) bad like Obsession, good workmanlike entertainment if you can take the (by now) numbing overfamilarity of their formulae.