Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Wrong Neighbor (Hybrid LLC/Lifetime, 2017)

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

I spent the evening watching a Lifetime movie I hadn’t seen before called The Wrong Neighbor, a 2017 production from Hybrid LLC, scripted by Robert Dean Klein from a story by co-producers Jeffrey Schenck and Peter Sullivan and more or less directed by Sam Irvin. It’s pretty much a cut-to-pattern piece from the Lifetime atelier, though with a few novelties: instead of being a “pussy in peril” movie, as Maureen Dowd once called the Lifetime oeuvre, it’s more of a “penis in peril” — said penis belonging to Tim Sullivan (Steve Richard Harris), who’s tall, lanky and considerably more attractive than most Lifetime good guys. The pussy his penis (and the rest of him) is in peril from is a psycho bitch named Jamie (Ashlynn Yennie), and the peril arises from the fact that Tim and his wife Heather (Andrea Bogart — any relation? Probably not, since her page describes her as a South Carolina native, and there are bits of the Carolina twang in her voice) have just separated. It seems that for the first 16 years of their marriage (they have a daughter that age — Lisa, played by Cristine Prosperi — and one gets the impression he knocked her up first and then married her) Tim put his ambitions to be a great chef on the back burner and supported Heather through law school until she became a hotshot tax attorney while he did the house-husband number and raised Lisa. Then a friend named Nate (Dominic Leeder, whose national origins are unknown but he has a definite accent from somewhere in the British Commonwealth and I believe his character was supposed to be Australian) offered Tim financial backing to open a first-class restaurant of his own. (The set representing this establishment makes it look like a mid-level diner, but hey, this is a Lifetime movie and whatever Lifetime was paying the production company, Hybrid LLC, probably wouldn’t stretch for an “A”-list restaurant set.) 

The restaurant is about to open but the clash in their schedules and particularly the fact that Heather isn’t used to Tim being as wrapped up in his work as she is leads them to a separation after therapy sessions with Dr. Fischer (the nicely authoritative British actress Julia Farino), who’s apparently a marriage counselor and therefore can treat the entire family without it being a conflict of interest (though Lisa has another therapist as well, an American-accented male) aren’t able to hold the marriage together. Heather gets to keep the house and Tim moves into an apartment building — where Jamie, who already lives there, meets him (actually they meet at a taco truck where Tim gallantly pays for her meal after Jamie realizes she has no money on her because she left her wallet at home) and decides that he’ll be the perfect person to give her the sense of family she lost when her parents recently died of cancer while she was taking care of them. (Later, of course, we learn that she was taking care of an elderly couple, but they weren’t her parents and they didn’t die of cancer … but I’m getting ahead of the story.) Lisa is a star on her high school’s swim team — whose coach, Jaworski, is played by a middle-aged, homely-faced, gravelly-voiced Michael Madsen, who probably has about 10 minutes of screen time, tops, but is top-billed (presumably so audiences will think, as I did, “Oh, good! Somebody’s in this movie I’ve actually heard of!”) even though when he appears, I thought, “What sort of high school is this that hires Tom Waits to coach their swim team?” She’s also got a hunky boyfriend named Steven (James Gaisford), whose face isn’t particularly attractive but the rest of his bod is so hot it doesn’t matter — and, blessedly, director Irwin gives us lots of yummy shots of Gaisford naked above the waist and showing off a pair of pecs to die for. (The male lead, Steve Richard Harris, also gets a lot of nice shirtless shots and he’s no slouch in the pecs department, either, though he’s hardly in Gaisford’s league.) 

During an argument, Steven grabs Lisa’s wrist — he lets go almost instantly but he’s left a bruise, and Jamie, who wants to be a substitute mother to Lisa as well as a substitute wife for Tim, seizes on this and decides that Steven is a psycho mate-beater Lisa better not see again … or else. Jamie crashes the opening of Tim’s restaurant (ya remember Tim’s restaurant?) and makes a scene with Heather and Lisa, resulting in Nick throwing Jamie out and threatening to fire Tim from his dream job if she ever shows up there again. Along the way Tim and Jamie went on an alcohol-soaked date and the two went home with Tim seemingly determined to fuck Jamie — but guilt and leftover commitment to his marriage led him to break off their hot, half-naked necking session before his penis actually entered the pussy from which it’s in peril … though Jamie shot smartphone photos of the two of them together and is able to show them to Heather during their confrontation outside the restaurant and convince Heather her husband really did cheat on her. Later Heather realizes that Jamie is the source of all her problems, so she asks a tax-law client of hers, Patrick (Jude B. Lanston) — a quite sexy Black man (one blessed way The Wrong Neighbor differs from most Lifetime movies is it contains a lot of hot guys, and they’re not dastardly villains for a change!) — to investigate him. We’re not sure how Patrick acquired investigative skills, but he obviously possesses them from some mysterious job he “retired” from (but the writers don’t bother to tell us what it was), and she starts stalking Jamie as Jamie keeps stalking Tim and Heather (Jamie, reflecting the NSA-like capabilities of the current crop of Lifetime villains, has both their abodes bugged and monitors them from her laptop) — until Jamie unexpectedly ambushes him in his car and stabs him from behind with what looks like a giant machete. He isn’t the first person she’s killed during the course of this movie: earlier she ran down Lisa’s boyfriend Steven (ya remember Lisa’s boyfriend Steven?) with her car when it looked like he and Lisa were going to reconcile. 

The film comes to a resolution — given all the dick jokes about it I’ve been making, “head” wouldn’t be an appropriate word, and neither would “climax” — after Lisa wins her school’s big swim meet, her parents show up to cheer her on and decide then and there to reconcile, only Jamie manages to kidnap both Tim and Lisa and take them to the home of the two people she used to care for, only they weren’t her parents and they didn’t die of cancer — she offed them and then grabbed their house (but then why was she living at the apartment building Tim moved into) — and they see a family photo in which Jamie has crudely pasted her own photo over Heather’s. (The fact that people in Lifetime movies are still crudely gluing together composite photographs to paste themselves into family situations involving the people they want to replace seems weird to me. Haven’t any of their writers heard of Photoshop?) They also see Jamie waving a gun around (earlier she’d shown herself a perfect shot in a scene in which she was trying to teach Lisa how to be a markswoman; it was also established that she knows the Israeli Krav Maga martial art) and trying to decide which of her victims, Tim or Lisa, she should shoot first — she’s planning to make it look like a murder-suicide while she escapes — only Heather crashes the party and wrestles Jamie to the ground, Jamie loses control of the gun, then Jamie pins Heather down and is about to strangle her when — surprise! — Lisa frees herself from the rather crude bondage with which Jamie tied her to a chair, grabs the gun and shoots Jamie in the back before Jamie can kill Heather. Alas, Lisa’s shot incapacitates Jamie but doesn’t kill her; instead, Messrs. Schenck, Sullivan and Klein end the film with a really preposterous tag in which Jamie is admitted to the “Bloch Psychiatric Hospital” (one “Trivia” contributor suggested it was named after Robert Bloch, author of the novel Psycho on which Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph Stefano based the classic film) but manages to escape by overpowering a rather dowdy blonde woman who’d just been hired as an orderly, shoving her into a wheelchair and stealing her clothes so she can pose as a staff member and just walk out of there — which she does, apparently courtesy of a doctor who’s supposedly in charge of the place but seems never to look up from his desk for any reason whatsoever. 

Despite a few tweaks in the formula, The Wrong Neighbor is Lifetime-cliché through and through (there’s even an African-American schoolmate of Lisa’s for her to confide in), and while other Lifetime movies with equally silly scripts have been redeemed somewhat by directors with a real flair for Gothic atmosphere and/or suspense editing, this one isn’t. Director Irwin gives the film the same dorkiness in his direction the writers did in their script, and while he shows off the physical beauty of his characters quite nicely (I’ve already told you how aesthetically pleasing I found the many shirtless shots of Steve Richard Harris and especially James Gaisford, and I’m sure straight guys watching this would have the same reaction towards Ashlynn Yennie, especially in the skin-tight mustard-yellow all-over she’s wearing in her opening scene!), he doesn’t give this story any sense of atmosphere (except in the stock shots of the big city where it’s supposedly taking place) or any real suspence. It’s just another ho-hum day in the Lifetime salt mines, and one pities Ashlynn Yennie, who might have been able to play her part more effectively if the writers had gone easier on her and given us some Christine Conradt-esque scenes that would have at least explained why this woman was so crazy instead of making us just accept it as a given. If I have to watch one more Lifetime movie with a scene in which a psycho character reacts to being rejected by the person they have their demented crush on by sitting at their car’s steering wheel, yelling, jerking their head around and banging things, I think I shall have that same reaction myself!