Sunday, October 2, 2016

My Husband Is Missing, a.k.a. Abducted Love (Daro Film Distribution, Odyssey Media, Lifetime, 2015)

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

Last night’s Lifetime movie was My Husband Is Missing, a surprisingly good neo-noir thriller even though it had an awful lot of the clichés typical of this network. The story begins, as so many Lifetime stories do, with a typical bucolic day in the life of a suburban family; Anne Bradshaw (Daphne Zuniga, whose best-known previous credit was in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs) is sending her husband Dale (Robert Underwood) to work. She solemnly reminds him that he’s supposed to pick their teenage daughter Casey (Nicole Muñoz — and kudos to the film’s casting directors, Dean E. Fronk, Donald Paul Pemrick and Edward D. Rea, for finding a girl who looks enough like Daphne Zuniga they’re believable as mother and daughter) up from school that night since she’ll be working too late on her own job to do so herself. Then we see a mysterious black van with an unseen driver following Dale on his way to work, blocking his way and forcibly taking him out of his own car. Anne doesn’t know anything untoward has happened to her husband until that night, when Casey calls to tell her she’s been waiting for an hour for dad to pick her up and he hasn’t shown. Anne calls Dale’s company — he owns his own business with a partner named Mel Davidson (David Lewis) and it’s not quite clear what business they’re in; at one point we’re told it’s a software company but later we see a warehouse full of hard goods — and it turns out Dale hasn’t shown up for work either. Then Anne gets a video purporting to show Dale in the hands of a gravelly-voiced kidnapper — obviously he’s running his voice through a filter so it can’t be recognized — and she calls the police.

The police arrive in the person of a sheriff’s deputy (the setting is an unincorporated town in Washington state — a common location for Lifetime movies since it’s just south of British Columbia, Canada, and so the one can easily “play” the other) named Barry Matthews (Aaron Pearl), and there’s an understated but powerful sexual attraction between him and Anne that becomes important later on in the plot. Only another law enforcer shows up, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs agent Sarah Pullman (played by Johannah Newmarch with a perfect I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-people-skills attitude that’s by far the best piece of acting in the film), and she and Matthews end up in an all-out jurisdictional war because she’s been on the trail of Dale’s and Mel’s company for over a year as a front laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. She’s convinced not only that both partners are in on it but Anne is too — she doesn’t buy her innocent-wife schtick even though we’re clearly meant to — and she gets the chance to ace Barry off the case when Barry and Anne are sitting on her front porch, they begin sucking face (we’re given a premonition that this is going to happen when director Brenton Spencer, ably negotiating a script by Jennifer Studer, suddenly cuts to a mid-shot of Aaron Pearl, sitting on a porch chair with his legs spread apart and flashing a quite ample basket), and though they don’t get any more physical than that, that’s enough: Mel happens to stop by (earlier it’s been established that he has a key to the Bradshaws’ home and uses it frequently when he and Dale want to discuss work after office hours) and films the scene with his smartphone. He later sends the video to Sarah Pullman, who uses it to get Barry’s bosses to pull him off the case, as well as to Casey Bradshaw, who for all her own mild transgressions (at the start she’s a typical spoiled teen brat who doesn’t want to wear the same shirt as one of the other students, doesn’t want to be seen bringing a lunch box to school and doesn’t want the other kids to know her mom is driving her — and while in the car she had earbuds plugged in and was playing whatever she was playing so loud her mom could hear it and ask her to turn it down) is shocked at the idea that her mom could be starting an affair with another man while her dad (who had an affair of her own two years earlier, though that proves to be just a red herring) is still missing and is likely still alive.

Barry also has an associate on the case named Mike Ferrit (Christopher De-Schuster, a tall, gangly but really cute blond “twink” type — if it weren’t for his height one could readily imagine him doing Gay porn), whom he busted for computer hacking and, like the folks on CSI: Cyber, was able to avoid punishment by coming over to the other side and doing his hacking on behalf of law enforcement. Only one night Barry sends him over to the offices of Dale’s and Mel’s corporation to try to get its financial records and see just how it is laundering Mexican drug money — and Barry, in director Spencer’s most chilling scene, is strangled by hands whose owner is carefully unseen, and we see this through the narrow security window on the otherwise solid door to the office where Mike was working. About two-thirds of the way through the movie we get the impression that the mastermind of the whole plot was Mel Davidson, who was the only person besides Dale who could have got into the company’s financial records and tweaked the books to send millions of dollars overseas and drain its accounts, and eventually Mel kidnaps Anne and takes her to the same location where he and his henchman, a rent-a-thug with more brawns than brains (“Who brings a crowbar to a kidnapping?” Mel laments later), held Dale — only in a final surprise (though given the number of times Lifetime writers and directors have pulled this twist, it’s really not that much a surprise at all) the kidnapping turns out to have been a fake and Mel and Dale were in it together. It seems that whatever their company was ostensibly doing, laundering money for the Mexican drug cartels was all it actually did to produce income, and at one point they decided to rip off the cartels for millions of dollars and stage phony “kidnappings” to fake their own deaths so they could disappear on the cartels’ money and the cartel heads wouldn’t send killers after them because as far as they knew, Mel and Dale would already be dead.

Fortunately, though officially off the case, Our Hunky Hero Barry Matthews (one of the few genuinely attractive middle-aged men on a Lifetime movie who isn’t playing a villain) is able to meet up with Anne’s daughter Casey and trace Mel to his and Dale’s hideout, where Mel has an assault rifle and threatens to kill both Anne and Casey with it. “You promised you wouldn’t kill Casey!” Dale whines — I guess it was O.K. with him if his partner knocked off the wife he’d previously cheated on but he drew the line at him murdering his own flesh-and-blood — so Mel kills Dale instead and is about to shoot the women (they’re not his wife and child, so why should he give a damn about them?) when one of them grabs the gun and shoots him instead. Barry is wounded in the shootout but is O.K. and he and Anne almost inevitably pair up at the end, giving her a sort-of consolation prize after losing that rotter of a husband. Though not exactly the freshest or most original movie ever made, My Husband Is Missing — actually filmed in 2015 under the odd working title Abducted Love (for once Lifetime’s title department actually came up with an improvement!) — is coherent, makes sense and has a number of appealing characters we want to see prevail (though I was sorry to lose Mike well before the end), and the conflicts within the Bradshaw family, especially between mom and daughter, add credibility and nuance to the characterizations. There are also some artful touches in Jennifer Studer’s script, particularly the home movie of the Bradshaws Anne and Casey re-view twice during the action — showing a banal but happy suburban existence that will be revealed by the end of the film as a lie — and the media feeding frenzy Casey ends up on the receiving end of after Mel leaks his video of Anne and Barry smooching to the local media. My Husband Is Missing is quality entertainment with something of a film noir feel, and it’s definitely several cuts above the usual Lifetime fare!