Monday, October 9, 2017

A Mother’s Revenge, a.k.a. Killer Switch (Indy Media, MarVista Entertainment, Lifetime, 2016)

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

I watched last night’s “feature,” a 2016 Lifetime movie apparently originally filmed under the title Killer Switch but given the more Lifetime-y title A Mother’s Revenge. The central character is Jennifer Clarke (Jamie Luner), a middle-aged woman who travels to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York to watch her daughter, Katey Williams (Audrey Whitby), graduate from college. While there she runs into Katey’s father, Richard Williams (the drop-dead gorgeous Jason Shane Scott, who quite frankly looks young enough we’d more readily believe in him as Katey’s brother than her dad!), with whom she just went through a contentious breakup: he started an affair with an office intern just four years older than Katey, got her pregnant and divorced Jennifer to marry the mom of his baby-to-be. The intrigue starts when she gets to her room at the Lafayette Hotel, opens her suitcase and finds men’s instead of women’s clothing. Realizing that she got the wrong bag, she calls the airport and finds that no unclaimed baggage remains from her flight, so obviously she picked up the wrong suitcase and some guy got hers instead because the bags looked similar. She arranges with the front desk clerk at the hotel to leave the bag with them so the airline can send someone to pick it up and return it to its rightful owner, but in the meantime she gets a darkly threatening phone call from someone telling her to give him back the bag … or else.

“Or else” turns out to be the kidnapping of Katey from her mom’s hotel room and the threats from the kidnapper, Conner (Steven Brand), to kill Katey unless Jennifer returns the bag pronto. Since she no longer has the bag and the airline has already picked it up, she goes to a tourist store and gets a similar-looking one and some pillows with which to stuff it to make it look full, and then is led by Conner on a merry chase through Buffalo in which she’s obliged to go to various locations, including a disused minor-league baseball field, a history museum, an aquarium and finally the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls. In each new location she will find a disposable cell phone on which Conner will call her and direct her to the next place in his “game” — a gimmick one “Trivia” poster noted was “borrowed” from the merry chase killer Andy Robinson led cop Clint Eastwood on in Dirty Harry. Jennifer is told that Conner will be watching her throughout and will notice if she isn’t carrying the bag — which becomes a problem when she’s held up on the subway by a hunky-looking robber and she has to take him on to get back both the decoy bag and her purse — and she’s also being chased by the police because Conner has killed her ex-husband Richard (who was hunky enough I wondered if he might be part of the criminal plot, though this time writer-director Fred Olen Ray decided to go for the hunky-guy-as-victim cliché instead of the hunky-guy-as-villain cliché) and framed Jennifer for it, though eventually the detectives pursuing her, avuncular African-American Leland Ford (Gerald Webb) and his white partner Joe Jacobs (Richard Lounello), decide she’s telling the truth. They’re able to obtain Conner’s actual suitcase at the airport and search it, while in the meantime Conner has lured Jennifer to their final rendezvous at the Cave of the Winds, which has been closed for “maintenance” and is adorned with a bunch of highly inflammatory signs warning people of the dangers therein.

The climax takes place at the Falls, where Conner is still playing cat-and-mouse with Jennifer over the fate of Katey, who’s right there — when mom demands the immediate release of her daughter before she hands over the suitcase and Conner toys with her, Jennifer heaves the suitcase over the Falls, Conner screams, Katey runs to her mom and the two try to flee, only Conner follows them and is just about to catch them when he collapses from a well-aimed bullet from one of the cops (they both have their guns drawn and it’s unclear which one shot him, though my money was on Ford) and his body goes over the Falls. Later, in the little tag scene to explain what the bad guy was after even though, as St. Alfred Hitchcock (whose shrine Fred Olen Ray obviously worships at) explained, nobody really cares what the bad guys are after — the characters care but the audience doesn’t — it turns out the suitcase contained $50,000 in genuine cash and $50 million in government bonds, of which the top one was real and the other 49 were counterfeit. (Well, at least it’s a less shopworn MacGuffin than drugs, which were what I was expecting it to be.) Though the plot is preposterous on its face and we’re expected to believe that a middle-aged woman can outrun a male crook, successfully take on a subway stick-up artist and grab his knife, and leap over the fence at the ballpark, for the most part A Mother’s Revenge is actually a quite good thriller in the Hitchcock mode, hardly on the level of the real Hitchcock but keeping the audience (this member of it, anyway) interested and delivering the goods — and Jamie Luner turns in an excellent performance in the lead, her face a mask of grim determination as she goes through the weird psycho games the baddie is putting her through to get her daughter back (even though, like a lot of other Lifetime thriller script writers, it doesn’t seem as if Ray ever decided whether Conner should be a businesslike crook only interested in the money or a psycho getting off on putting Jennifer and Katey in peril and making his victims suffer).