Sunday, July 31, 2016

Killer Coach (Shadowland, Lifetime, 2016)

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

I had my heart set on watching the two Lifetime movies being shown last night from 8 p.m. to midnight, Killer Coach (billed as a “world premiere”) and Killer Assistant. Frankly, I needn’t have bothered; though they were produced by different entities in the universe of companies that supply “content” to Lifetime (Killer Coach by Shadowland and Killer Assistant by Cartel), the two were pretty similar. One nice thing was that both had ample supplies of the soft-core porn that’s been absent from all too many recent Lifetime movies but is now making a welcome return. Another unusual thing about Killer Coach is that the aspiring female swimmer who’s at the heart of the story, Samantha Morgan (Javicia Leslie), is Black, while both her regular boyfriend Lucas (Cameron Jebo) and Bryce Hinge (Tom Maden), the titular “killer coach” who first seduces and then stalks Samantha, are white — though as I noted in my comments on the 1993 film The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, by some quirk of American racism a white man and a Black woman is considered a less bothersome pairing than a white woman and a Black man. Actually Bryce Hinge is merely an assistant coach; the actual coach at the L.A.-area high school where the story takes place is Gina Morgan (Keesha Sharp), who’s sufficiently hot and in good enough shape she looks more like Samantha’s older sister but is in fact her mom, who years before made it to the U.S. Olympic swimming team (obviously with the actual Olympics coming up and starting with the opening ceremony this Friday, a story dealing with the Olympics and fictional contenders for spots on the U.S. team is timely!) and fell a second short of a gold medal, finally winning bronze. Now Gina is pushing her daughter because she sees Samantha as her ticket to the podium-topping glory at the Olympics that eluded her way back when, and indeed she’s spending so much time coaching Samantha that her other students, including school “fast” girl Emily (Madison Iseman), are starting to complain about her obvious favoritism.

So partly to relieve the stress on her and partly to give the other girls some hard-core coaching, too, Gina hires Bryce Hinge as an assistant coach — and, as it turns out, he’s also the offspring of a swimming legend, Thomas Hinge (Ivar Brogger), who rose from being his own Olympic competitor to head the U.S. swimming federation (I think writers Tracy Andreen and Kentucky Robinson — one wonders if this would have been a better script if Tennessee Robinson would have worked on it instead — gave it a slightly fictionalized name instead of its real one, but I can’t recall what they called it). Bryce had his own shot at the Olympics but blew it, so Thomas explains to Samantha and us about two-thirds into the movie, because he had a tendency to get obsessed and fiercely possessive about whatever woman he was interested in at the moment, whether she was interested in him or not. He actually gets Samantha to have sex with him in the school’s pool after hours — she routinely practices at night and one night he catches her there, coaches her and then fucks her in the pool, the whole thing being filmed by director Lee Friedlander in dim light that makes the scene both romantic and creepy but, alas, denies us (or at least denies me) the stark contrasts between the colors of the bodies that for me is the principal “charge” in an interracial sex scene. Then he starts pestering her for more, and her performance both in the classroom (this is one film set in an American high school that actually shows us the classroom!) and in the pool drops. Her mom notices, but Samantha doesn’t want to tell her what happened, not only because she’s ashamed and afraid her mom will punish her but because Bryce is blackmailing her with video of them having sex he got from the security cameras around the pool — the angle was such that she’s easily recognizable but he isn’t — and he’s also threatening to “out” Samantha’s mom Gina because during the run-up to the Olympics in which she competed, Gina briefly took human growth hormone and came up positive for it on a drug test. Bryce got the documents of this from his dad, who covered up the incident at the time, and tells Samantha that if she goes either to her mom or the police and tells them she and Bryce had sex, he will release this information and Gina will be retroactively stripped of her bronze Olympic medal.

The one person Samantha thinks she can confide in is Lucas; they spend several acts on the “outs” because Bryce showed Lucas the video of Samantha having sex in the pool and he’s unsurprisingly jealous of her anonymous lover, but eventually Samantha corners Lucas outside his parents’ home (he says his parents are there so he can’t invite her in, and she says, “That never stopped us before” — the first indication we get that she and Lucas were getting it on before Bryce stepped into the picture and therefore she wasn’t a virgin, though previously writers Andreen and Robinson had led us to believe she was), she tells him the man in the video was Bryce and he seduced her. Eventually Lucas believes her and the two have sex — and director Friedlander shoots their soft-core porn scene more straightforwardly and gives me the thrill of her Black body against his white one I wanted all along — only before they can decide what to do, Bryce comes to the Morgan home and overpowers Gina, tying her up and then calling Samantha to tell her he’s got her mom captive but he’ll release her unharmed if she resumes their relationship. The film ends at the pool, where Bryce wants to reproduce the whole scenario that led them to have sex in the first place — they raced in the pool, then he seduced her — only he’s brought a gun with him, though instead of carrying it in the pool he’s left it on the side with his clothes. Somehow Samantha manages to distract him long enough to get out of the pool and grab the gun, and when Bryce comes towards him she drills him one and scores a perfect shot to the heart. (Maybe if she’d been established as an ace target shooter as well as a fantastic swimmer, it would be more believable that she could do that — though at least it’s nice for a change in a Lifetime movie for the put-upon heroine, what Maureen Dowd called the “pussy in peril,” to be able to take out the bad guy herself instead of relying on the police, an accident or another character as deus ex machina to do it.)

Killer Coach had the makings of a pretty good Lifetime thriller but director Friedlander and writers Andreen and Robinson were entirely too gloomy about it; true, Tom Maden, with his hard swimmer’s body clad mostly in tight black jeans (though oddly, given that he’s a swimming coach, we don’t get to see much of him in Speedos — darnit) and an infectious face topped by a mop of tousled black hair, is the closest thing to a male sex god I expect to see on basic cable, and though Cameron Jebo is nowhere near as hot as Maden, he’s easy enough on the eyes — taller, blonde, a bit dorky but still incredibly attractive — he’s both exciting to look at and enough less sexy than Maden that it fulfills the Lifetime iconography that the hottest guys are always the villains. The show is also sunk by an overly dire musical score by Steve Gurevitch (I’ve seen his name on previous Lifetime films and had the same complaint about his music there than here) that makes ordinary actions like climbing up a set of household stairs or getting into a pool seem so scary Gurevitch has few musical tricks left to score the scenes that are genuinely supposed to be frightening. Despite the hot soft-core porn scenes the film otherwise just plods along, and the few hints of multidimensionality Andreen and Robinson try to give their characters are mostly unexploited — at one point Samantha tears into her mom and says that competitive swimming was her mom’s dream, not hers, but then this potentially interesting antagonism between the women gets dropped as Bryce’s actions pull mom and daughter closer together. Killer Coach has little to offer aside from two guys (and some girls, if you’re into that sort of thing) who are nice to look at and a couple of hot sex scenes; otherwise it’s a by-the-numbers Lifetime thriller that just isn’t all that thrilling. Also, though Ken Sanders, creator of the “Whittendale Universe” — the sequence of Lifetime movies taking place either at Whittendale University (which is either in Pennsylvania or Vermont — accounts differ) or among high-school students desperate enough to go there they’re turning to prostitution or other gamy income sources to raise enough money to pay its tuition — is listed as a producer (but not a writer!) for this one, the name of Whittendale isn’t mentioned among the colleges both Samantha and Lucas plan to apply to in hopes of getting admitted to the same one and thereby being able to continue to go together no matter where they end up.