Monday, June 19, 2017

Girlfriend Killer (Concord Films, Lifetime, 2017)

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

I switched to the Lifetime channel and stayed there for four hours watching a couple of movies, both dated 2017 even though neither was billed as a “premiere.” The first one was Girlfriend Killer, which was written by Christine Conradt but a disappointment coming from her because she utterly failed to bring any sort of multidimensionality to her villain (the usual aspect that raises Conradt’s scripts above the Lifetime norm). The real auteur of this one is neither Conradt nor the traffic cop — oops, I mean director — Alyn Darnay, but Barbie Castro, who not only starred as the usual Lifetime damsel in distress but co-produced the film with Eric R. Castro (presumably her husband) and cast her daughter Taylor Castro as her character’s daughter in the movie (well, that’s one way to avoid the bugbear of having two people in a movie who don’t look at all alike passed off as genetic relatives: cast a real mother and daughter as the mother and daughter in the film) and also hired one Rhys Castro as the propmaker — there are more Castros in this movie than there ever were in the Cuban government! Barbie Castro has done at least three “_____ Killer” series films for Lifetime before, Assumed Killer, Patient Killer and Boyfriend Killer, though Boyfriend Killer is the only one I can recall seeing before. It was also written by Christine Conradt and directed by Alyn Darnay, but I said of it that “this time [Conradt] seems merely to be following her formulae instead of legitimately extending them the way she did in The Bride He Bought Online,” and the same could be said of Girlfriend Killer as well. Girlfriend Killer does have its points, including the off-beat profession Conradt thought up for her heroine, the Barbie Castro role. She’s a divorcée named Carmen Ruiz (I got the last name off and don’t recall hearing it mentioned in the film) with a teenage daughter named Ayla (Taylor Castro) and a boyfriend named Ryan Gerner (Brian Gross — not exactly a hunk to die for but a nice-looking piece of man-meat with great pecs). 

Carmen has created a business for herself that is a combination consultant and videographer for men seeking to make marriage proposals to their significant others (and not just women: one of the most delightful scenes in the film is one in which Carmen stages the proposal of a Gay man to his partner! I guess it’s progress of a sort that we at last exist on Lifetime). She stages the date on which the guy will pop the question and uses a hidden camera and either a shotgun mike or mikes concealed in flowerpots and bushes (just like in the early days of sound film in the late 1920’s!) to record the proposals, then presents the lucky man with an Internet link to download the video and collects her fee, while Ryan helps her as an editor and a grip. Only one of her customers, Emerson Banes (Jason Cook, who for once is not the hottest guy in the movie even though he’s the villain — both Ryan and Carmen’s ex Nick, played by Khotan Fernandez, are sexier!), isn’t as lucky as the service advertises: he makes his proposal in Carmen’s elaborate staging, but his girlfriend Marissa Stefans (Elisabetta Fantone) turns him down, saying that she’s been seeing someone else for four months, he’s someone Emerson doesn’t know that she met at a “trade show,” and they hit it off better than she and Emerson ever have. Emerson is your typical spoiled Lifetime 1-percenter; he drives a red Maserati sports car that practically becomes a character itself and his response to Marissa’s turn-down is to knock her off. Before Marissa mysteriously disappears — she’s missing for several days before her body is found — Ryan gets an odd phone call which he tells Carmen is from his brother Jason but is really from a woman, which made me think for a bit that Christine Conradt was going to have Ryan be the man Marissa was seeing behind both Emerson’s and Carmen’s backs. But that little pink herring (it really isn’t well-developed enough to be considered red) gets dropped in a hurry and the rest of it is a typical tale of Obsessed Psycho 101 stalking Carmen — she tried to console him after his proposal got turned down and he instead concluded that it was Carmen who was meant to be a soulmate. 

It turns out he not only broke into Carmen’s home and stole all her video footage, including his own failed proposal, which he runs over and over again in his private projection rom, he even has plastered a whole wall of his house with photos of her — how 20th century; today the obsessed man would instead have a computer file of photos of his crush object and relentlessly scroll through them instead of posting them on his wall — and he’s determined to get her by any means necessary, including running down Ryan with that hot red car (Ryan emerges relatively unscathed but for a while Emerson thinks he’s killed him). Meanwhile Carmen’s daughter Ayla has been on a camping trip in the woods with her dad Nick, whom she likes, and Nick’s fiancée Zoe Kent (Vivi Pineda), whom Ayla can’t stand — only she runs away from camp and makes it back to Carmen’s home, where Emerson kidnaps her (as I’ve noted in these pages before, it’s virtually obligatory for a Lifetime movie in which the heroine in distress has a child for said child to be kidnapped as a set-up for the final sequence) and holds her, telling Carmen to charter him a boat and allow him to escape to the Bahamas, otherwise he’ll kill Ayla. At first Carmen doesn’t want to involve the police for fear Emerson will kill Ayla if she does, but Ryan talks her into it and the “boat” she offers Emerson is a set-up — its crew members are undercover police officers — and of course the film ends with Ayla recovered safely and Emerson arrested (though it is something of a variation on the usual Lifetime formula to have the principal villain captured alive instead of killed). Girlfriend Killer is a pretty typical Lifetime movie, neither especially good nor especially bad, decently done and with some nice-looking male cast members who for once aren’t playing villains, but a bit of a disappointment from Christine Conradt because one thinks that, given her head instead of locked inside a Castro family vanity production, she could have made Emerson a genuinely interesting and multidimensional villain character instead of just a “stick” psycho.