Sunday, January 15, 2017

Open Marriage (MarVista Entertainment/Lifetime, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night Lifetime offered a “world premiere” of something called Open Marriage, a TV-movie from our old friends at MarVista Entertainment, directed by Sam Irvin from a script by Jason Byers and apparently shot under the working title To Have and to Kill. I’d been determined to watch this movie ever since I saw the promos, mainly because — unusually for a Lifetime movie — it features two devastatingly hot guys, Tilky Jones and Jason Tobias — and of course I spent the whole movie hoping that they’d dump their female spouses and hook up with each other! The plot: Becca (Nikki Leigh) is a doctor with a killer work schedule who wants a child and is getting worried because her husband Ron (Tilky Jones) doesn’t seem capable of giving her one — not that they’ve had sex in quite a while. Ron is a struggling builder trying to put a contracting business together but he needs a big job to do that — which he hopes he has when the city they’re in decides to build a community center and he thinks he has a good chance at landing that contract. Becca has a friend from her college days, Mindy (Kelly Dowdle), who’s married to a 1-percenter (though we’re never told just where his money comes from or what he’s doing career-wise now) named Max (Jason Tobias), who’s pretty much the same physical type as Ron — only Max has frizzier hair and Ron has an elaborate tattoo covering most of his left arm, which is the main way you can tell them apart. The film shows us a lot of Ron and Max in bathing suits and nothing else (way to go!) for the straight women and Gay men in the audience, while any straight men watching this get enough glimpses of Becca and Mindy similarly attired in swimwear to get their sort of charge. During one evening when the two couples are having an outdoor get-together Max and Mindy announce that they’ve “opened” their marriage to sexual experiences with other couples. Ron and Becca are reluctant at first, but the mere thought of a four-way with their good buddies turns them on enough they get it on for the first time in months.

Dylan (Zach Cramblit), a queeny Gay man who works as a nurse or paramedic or something for Becca at the hospital where she’s a doctor, tells her that he and his husband have an open relationship themselves, though he also warns her that it’s a bit easier when they’re both men (either because they don’t have to worry about getting pregnant or on the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus idea that men are more able than women to detach sex from emotion and have it just for the sheer physical pleasure involved). Ron, Becca, Max and Mindy have their first “open” encounter at Max’s home and set ground rules — they won’t do anything unless all four are involved and they’ll use “protection” against both pregnancy and STD’s. Their second open encounter occurs at a private sex club called Caligula (which made me wonder if they specifically catered to people who want to have sex with their siblings, the way the real Caligula did), which you get invitations to through text messages on your smartphone that tell you what the password is for that night. (No, it’s not “Swordfish.”) The two couples are greeted at the door by an apparition who’s apparently the dungeon mistress of Caligula, Vulnavia (Debra Wilson), a woman of ambiguous ethnicity who’s dressed in a skin-tight leather outfit and looks more at home in the sexual underground than anyone else in the film. The couples’ second encounter with each other’s partners at Caligula is as hot as the first, but midway through the proceedings Max and Becca slip away from one of the dungeon’s private rooms to another, breaking the two couples’ ground rules because they found the furniture in the first room uncomfortable. The seeds of jealousy start to sprout as Ron, left alone one evening when Becca works a late shift (she covered for her Gay friend Dylan so he and his husband could go to a Lady Gaga concert) and Ron runs out of football games to watch, instead going to Caligula alone, where he’s accosted by a woman named Angelique (Cassi Colvin) who comes on to him; they kiss, but nothing more. We also see a mysterious person in a white feathered mask who’s being attended to by two men, one on either side of — well, we assume it’s a she, though there are hints of both Gay and Lesbian goings-on at this mostly hetero club. Still later it’s Becca who breaks the ground rules and goes to Caligula on her own, and had screenwriter Byers stopped there he might have had a very interesting movie about people who think they can handle the sexual underground, find they really can’t, and suffer picturesquely along the way before reverting to monogamy at the end.

One particularly interesting twist is that Ron isn’t entirely infertile but he’s told by one of the doctors at Becca’s hospital that he has only one-one hundredth of the chance of impregnating his wife as a normal man. That leads to the tantalizing possibility that the entire “open marriage” business was stage-managed by Becca as a way of having a child; since her husband couldn’t give her one, she decided to go after Max and see if he could do the job (which could have led to an intriguing sequel 20 years later, as the kid, now grown, learns that his biological father is fabulously wealthy and goes after his money). Instead Open Marriage takes a turn into typical Lifetime melodramatics that significantly weaken it; the two couples find themselves victimized by a no-good rotter who sends texts with photos of them at Caligula. This costs Ron the city contract he was so desperate to get and leaves both couples floundering in a sea of mutual jealousy and recrimination, and it turns out the culprit is … Mindy, who it seems always had the hots for Ron (and maybe a Lesbian itch for Becca as well), and who ends up literally holding a gun on Ron to force him into one last orgy and, when Becca is unwilling to go along, she fires the gun and Becca reaches for an odd antique clock with its own pedestal and clubs Mindy over the head with it, killing her. The cops accept Becca’s self-defense claim and a tag scene indicates that the child she’s carrying is Ron’s after all — he made it in the 1/100th window. Open Marriage offered plenty of titillation (or dickillation) for this Gay viewer — even though the script didn’t give them much to work with in the way of acting, when I can watch a movie with two people as gorgeous as Tilky Jones (despite that silly name) and Jason Tobias and see them mostly wearing nothing but the bare legal minimum, I’m going to enjoy it on aesthetic grounds alone — but it could have been a titillating joyride and a moral tale instead of writing the “villain” character (Mindy was the woman in the feathered mask at Caligula taking the damning photos she later sexted far and wide, costing Ron his job) in and turning the resolution flat and ordinary.