Monday, June 26, 2017

Deadly Ex (Creative Arts Entertainment Group/Lifetime, 2017)

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

Alas, after My Daughter Is Missing Lifetime showed something considerably less interesting, Deadly Ex, which was a disappointment despite Christine Conradt’s presence on the writing credits — she worked out the original story in collaboration with Chris Lancey and did the actual script by herself. The first surprise came when I looked up the film’s page and read the following synopsis: “A woman interprets a kiss at a high school reunion as an invitation to follow her ex across the country and supplant his current family.” That was a surprise because I would have assumed a Lifetime movie called Deadly Ex would have been about a woman terrorized by a male ex-lover, not the other way around! The “deadly ex” is Valerie (Natasha Henstridge), who 20 years before dated Gary (Jason Gerhardt) when they were both high-school students in Kansas City and he had ambitions to go to law school and become a prosecutor. Only within a year and a half they broke up and Gary married Jess (Marguerite Moreau). He dropped out of law school after two years and ended up in Los Angeles starting a trucking company with his friend Walt (Ben Reed). Alas, the business is barely hanging on financially, and Jess’s job as a yoga teacher doesn’t add that much to the family income. They have two kids, teenage son Zach (Matt Cornett) — who like virtually all movie teenagers spends his entire life wearing headphones and listening to loud music, and who wears a long-sleeved T-shirt bearing the logo of a business called “Burger Records” (we see him in that shirt in virtually every scene, so much so that we get the impression it’s the only shirt he owns!) — and a daughter, Carissa (Sammi Hanratty) — not another Carissa! — whom the family wants to send to a fiercely competitive prep school and they have a slot to admit her but they need to come up with the tuition. Valerie is actually doing considerably better economically — she lives and works in Seattle and has come up with a successful business selling high-end purses, handbags and cases for tablet computers — but though Christine Conradt doesn’t spell out what her emotional life has been like, we get the impression that if she has had a sex life since she and Gary broke up, it’s been pretty loveless, opportunistic and not “serious.” 

The script intercuts between present action and whatever it was happened between Gary and Valerie at the high-school reunion at which they re-met — we see her cruising him, him confessing to her that his marriage is in trouble and he and Jess are considering a divorce, and the two getting as far as an open-mouthed kiss and Valerie inviting Gary back to her hotel room, an invitation Gary virtuously declined but came close enough to accepting Valerie thinks it’s only a matter of time before she can wear him down and get him to leave his wife and kids for her. The script shows the “Conradt touch” in making the three principals multidimensional characters, though I agreed with the reviewer who complained that Gary is such a milquetoast it’s hard to believe both women are so invested in him they’re fighting this bitterly over him. Natasha Henstridge is so much sexier than Marguerite Moreau one gets the impression that Gary traded down big-time when he left Valerie for Jess — she’s also a much better businessperson than Gary or his wife — and Jess (giving her such an androgynous name was a nice touch on Conradt’s part) doesn’t help her cause by being ferociously and counterproductively jealous, constantly ragging Gary about his association with Valerie, finding lipstick on one of his shirts (which Gary had hidden precisely to avoid his wife having a jealous hissy-fit about it), refusing to believe that he and Valerie never actually got to the down-’n’-dirty in the 2.0 phase of their relationship, and peremptorily throwing him out of the house without giving him much of a chance to explain. Valerie is easily the show’s most interesting character — like Jett Rink, James Dean’s character in the film Giant, we get the idea that there are more sides of her that we’d want to see explored and we’d like to see the story “remixed” to focus on her and how she made it in the business world even as she failed to find romance or happiness in that department — and though she’s considerably more zaftig than the common type of female leads today, I doubt very many straight guys watching this movie would pick Jess over her! 

Unfortunately, this film also shows Christine Conradt’s weaknesses as a writer big-time, particularly her penchant for insanely melodramatic climaxes: after Jess has thrown him out, Valerie comes to Gary’s hotel room, waits for him to fall asleep, steals his credit cards and his keys, lets herself into Gary’s and Jess’s house and grabs whatever weapons she can find — a kitchen knife and a ball-peen hammer — using these to assault and seriously wound Jess and Carissa. In one of Conradt’s typical bits of irony, Zach is home when his mom and his sister are being assaulted by the Crazy Bitch from Hell but he doesn’t notice because he’s got his headphones on and has his music cranked up so loud he can’t hear the noise from the attacks. Eventually Zach catches on to what’s going on and calls a male friend of his on Skype to ask him to call the police, since Valerie has managed to destroy or steal every cell phone in the house, and the cops come — but in the meantime Jess has wrested the knife from Valerie and stabbed her with it, and though Conradt doesn’t spell it out we get the impression that she killed Valerie with the knife because Valerie doesn’t respond when the cops come to take her into custody. Deadly Ex was originally filmed under the title Inconceivable — for once Lifetime changed a working title and came up with something better, though not by much — and it’s given workmanlike direction by Tom Shell, who seemed to be holding his nose and jumping into the pool of melodramatic gimmicks Conradt supplied him in lieu of a script. But it does have an excellent performance by Natasha Henstridge, who burns up the screen for sheer sexiness and manages to make Valerie believable as a put-upon victim — at least until the final scene, when Conradt’s script requires her to lose it completely and she responds with the kind of over-several-tops acting Christine Conradt’s scripts seem to demand at their melodramatic worst! Frankly, the best job of direction I’ve ever seen on a Conradt script came from Conradt herself, as both writer and director of The Bride He Bought Online (which according to has been retitled Flirting with Madness), and she’s apparently made two more films as director, Killer Mom and the upcoming 12 Days of Giving, which should be interesting.