Sunday, April 2, 2017

Off the Rails (Divine Immortality Productions, MarVista Entertainment, Lifetime, 2017)

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

Lifetime’s next “premiere,” Off the Rails, was also dated 2017 but seems to have been made at least with the hope of a theatrical release — or at least a release in countries whose TV stations aren’t governed by the abominably prissy regulations of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are quite a few instances here in which the characters say “bull-,” and the obvious second syllable of the word is abruptly cut off. Like Forgotten Evil, the second “premiere” story from Lifetime last week, Off the Rails is an amnesia story; college professor Nicole Halliwell Barrow (played by an actress with the delightfully improbable name “Hannah Barefoot”) is on a train that suddenly derails, and when she comes to she has lost all memory of great chunks of her life. She’s been living for three years with her boyfriend Mark Barrow (Thomas Beaudoin) and suddenly discovers that she married him, something she hadn’t remembered doing. She also finds out that she has active accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, even though before the accident she not only had no social-media presence but actively resisted the idea. Her office assistant, Zara (Vanessa Kai), who fills the avuncular voice-of-reason role typical in Lifetime movies even though she’s Nicole’s own age and Asian instead of Black, tells her that not only did Nicole never go on social media but she argued with Zara when Zara tried to get her to open Facebook and Twitter pages.

What’s more, Nicole’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages indicate that she’s sexually available and into kinky scenarios — which Nicole discovers when a man in a ski mask (after Fatal Defense it was a jolt to see another guy with a ski mask in this movie!) crashes into her office, attempts to rape her, and then explains that he was only responding to a post she put up on a Facebook group they’re both in (one specifically aimed at married people seeking extramarital partners) asking him to dress up as an intruder and enact a mock “rape” on her. When he realizes he’s been snookered, the guy, Walter Gasker (David Anthony Buglione), apologizes to Nicole and says the rape bit wasn’t his idea — he just wanted to get laid. Eventually we realize that someone else must have put up all those social-media pages in Nicole’s name, and Nicole discovers that in the last few months before her accident she and Mark had agreed to take a “break” from their relationship — and apparently she’d been the busy little bee, having all sorts of casual encounters as well as one semi-serious affair with art photographer Luc Cormier (Andreas Damm). Much of what Nicole does remember about her recent past comes back to her in therapy sessions led by Dr. Teres (Andrea Cline), but there’s one sequence in which she’s shown talking behind Nicole’s back to her husband Mark and we begin to wonder whether they’re in a conspiracy together to drive her crazy, Gaslight-style. Eventually the fake social-media pages are traced back to Jillian Borsic (Campbell Dunsmore), who was Luc’s girlfriend until he threw her over for Nicole. Borsic had the expertise to fake computer pages since she worked in the IT department of the college where Nicole teaches, and after quitting her job and disappearing Borsic contacts Nicole and offers to meet her — only Nicole has to take a train to do it, and given what happened to her the last time she went on a train anywhere Nicole is understandably reluctant. But she screws up her courage and this time the train stays on the tracks and gets Nicole to where she’s supposed to go — which turns out to be a stop in the middle of nowhere at which Borsic has Nicole get off, the two have a confrontation outside the train as it’s stopped, and then Borsic shoots herself and Nicole gets back on the train and returns home.

Nicole also discovers a building contractor whom Mark hired to expand their deck, and who tells her that Mark was unusually hands-on about watching the work being done and dictating how it was supposed to go. Mark’s explanation for why he’d undertake a major remodeling project at such a stressful time in their relationship is that he expected her to get a promotion at work which would require them to do more entertaining at home — but at this point both Nicole and the audience begin to suspect that Mark really killed Luc, who’s disappeared, and used the new construction to bury his body under the new deck, Rear Window-style. At the end it turns out — more or less, because writer Tracy Andreen isn’t exactly big on plot clarity — that Mark conspired with the therapist not only to knock off Luc, for whom Nicole was planning to leave him when she had the accident, but to bury the body — and the two plan to bury Nicole alive and put her under the deck once she finds out the truth. Evidently either Andreen decided to write a non-linear script or Luc survived after all, because after Mark and the corrupt therapist are arrested and Nicole is rescued from premature entombment, our last shot of her is she’s once more on a train, going to meet Luc — or was that what she was doing when she had the accident originally? We don’t know, and Andreen isn’t about to tell us — neither Andreen’s name nor their page lets us know whether she’s a man or a woman, but whichever gender s/he belongs to s/he obviously thinks s/he’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind author Charlie Kaufman. Alas, Andreen is as far removed from Kaufman’s talent level as his/her director, David Jackson, is from Alfred Hitchcock’s, whom he’s obviously ineptly trying to emulate. Unlike Fatal Defense, which was just silly, Off the Rails had the potential to be a good movie with more sensitive (and coherent) writing and tighter direction; as it is, it’s watchable more for Hannah Barefoot’s capably hard-bitten performance in the lead and the hot bods of Thomas Beaudoin and Andreas Damm as the two men in Nicole’s life than for anything in Andreen’s script or Jackson’s direction.