Sunday, April 30, 2017

Woman on the Run (Annuit Coeptis Entertainment, Johnson Production Group, Lifetime, 2017)

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

Lifetime’s April 29 follow-up to Manny Dearest was Woman on the Run, which despite its generic “thriller” title had a good deal more potential than its schedule-mate but was one of those Lifetime productions in which a good director (Jason Bourque) with a real flair for suspense ran afoul of a script that piled so many improbabilities on top of each other it was more oppressive than entertaining. It’s essentially a blend of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Kafka’s The Trial and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: mystery writer Nomi Gardner (Sarah Butler) is married to Seattle-based hedge-fund investor Mark Gardner (Jim Thorburn, O.K.-looking but not as drop-dead gorgeous as Lifetime’s usual villains). They have two kids, six-year-old daughter Jane (Bailey Skodje) and infant son Aiden, and they’ve hired a nanny named Greta March (Lindsay Maxwell, who also played the small role of murder victim Gwen Brown on Manny Dearest). The plot kicks off when Mark has to go out of town on a trip to meet potential new investors for his hedge fund, and he brings Nomi and the kids along — only Nomi realizes that she didn’t bring diapers or formula for Aiden, so she goes out of their hotel to the nearest drugstore to get those items. While she’s out she’s mysteriously attacked, and she fends off the attacker — only when she returns to the hotel room, she’s told that she’s really Greta and Greta is really Nomi. She finds that her ID has been mysteriously switched so it has her face but Greta’s name, and she has no documentary way of proving her true identity. We get what’s happening right away — at some point Greta and Mark started an affair and hatched this plot to get rid of Nomi and keep her from getting her hands on $5 million in income Mark had just received from a mysterious source and which he’d shielded from his wife by telling her his businesses were doing poorly. 

Nomi’s peril soon turns Kafka-esque — or at least as Kafka-esque as this film’s considerably less talented writer, Paul A. Birkett, could make it — as she tries to go to the police, who buy Mark’s and Greta’s explanation that this is just a crazy ex-nanny whom they had to fire and who is still stalking them. She tries calling Ted Curtis (Jerry Wasserman), her old writing teacher, whom she was seen talking to on Skype in an opening scene and who therefore knows what she looks like (earlier Birkett has tried to get us to believe she’s so reclusive she doesn’t know anybody else in her own neighborhood and she’s never allowed her photo to appear on the dust jackets of her books), and he agrees to fly cross-country to identify her — only when she and that officious woman detective meet Ted at the police station he identifies Nomi as Greta. She starts screaming at him that Mark and Greta have obviously got to him, too — and of course the policewoman decides she’s being paranoid and warns her once again to stop stalking the Gardners or they’ll arrest her and put her in a psych ward. In fact Mark and Greta did bribe Ted, offering him $100,000 — only when he realizes they stand to gain $5 million from their scam, whatever it is, he demands $1 million and Mark responds by sending Lyle (Josh Byer), his handyman and hit man, to strangle him in his car and then crash it off the road so it will look like Ted, an alcoholic, got drunk and ran his car off a mountain road in an accident. Lyle also attempts to kill Nomi — the real one — but botches the job at least twice. The only person Nomi actually has in her corner is Oscar (Matthew MacCaull), who was working as a bellboy at the hotel where Mark, Nomi and Greta were staying and who ran into her in the lobby, found out who she was (how?) and told her he was a fan of her books. (Given how many Murder, She Wrote reruns I’ve been watching lately, I joked that he’d tell her, “You’re the first mystery writer I’ve met here since Jessica Fletcher!”) 

When the cops actually put her in a psych ward and she tries to escape, only they catch her and are about to give her electroshock therapy (an error since in Washington state, where this is set, no one can be given electroshock therapy against their will without first obtaining a court order), faithful Oscar manages to pull a fake “emergency” that causes the building to be evacuated and escapes with Nomi. At the end, though, the big weak link in Mark’s and Greta’s plot turns out to be Mark’s and Nomi’s daughter Jane: in the final confrontation, when a different woman detective also seems to be going along with Mark’s and Greta’s plot, Jane hugs the real Nomi and makes it clear to the cop that it’s the dark-haired woman, not the blonde, who’s her real mother — whereupon Mark and Greta get arrested and Nomi ends up in a relationship with Oscar (hey, the kids need a dad from somewhere, and it’s already been established that he was attracted to her!). Woman on the Run, despite its blah title, had the potential to be a really good exercise in suspense, and Jason Bourque has done some pretty good Lifetime movies before this one, including Are You My Daughter? and I Didn’t Kill My Sister (also about a woman who discovers not only that her husband is having an affair but the girlfriend is trying to displace her completely), but once again he’s hamstrung by a script that’s so silly, so poorly motivated and requires so many suspensions of disbelief you could hang the Golden Gate Bridge off of them. The actors do the best they can with Birkett’s absurdities and Bourque, as in his previous Lifetime movies, proves himself a quite capable director of suspense and action that just needs better scripts than the major-domos at Lifetime have been giving him!