Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fatherly Obsession (Imoto Productions/Lifetime, 2017)

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

Alas, after Web Cam Girls Lifetime showed a movie that went way over the top and made Web Cam Girls look like a deathless masterpiece by comparison. It was originally shot under the title The Landlord — a title that in 1968 was used for a marvelous Norman Jewison-Hal Ashby comedy about a terminally naive white liberal kid who buys a tenement building in Harlem, moves in and has affairs with two of the Black women in the building — but ended up on Lifetime under the title Fatherly Obsession. The central character is Alyssa Haroldson (Molly McCook), who at the start of the film has just left Louisville, where she was being stalked by someone she’d never met, and has moved to L.A. She’s living in a cheap motel with her cat Jen and has got a job in a small nightclub as a stand-up comedian — though midway through the movie her boss offers her more money if she’ll also be a bartender when she’s not on stage, and the funniest thing she says in her role as a comedian is, “Don’t forget to tip the bartender, which is me.” At the club she meets Robert Farnsworth (Ted McGinley), who has an apartment building nearby and invites Alyssa to move in at a below-market rent. He tells her that one reason he’s letting her have the apartment so cheaply is that the previous tenant, Meghan (Elizabeth Gilman), died in it — a suicide, Robert tells Alyssa, though as hardened Lifetime-movie watchers we immediately conclude that he killed her. (There was a prologue in which we see Robert with a woman in a bathtub — we don’t know until the main body of the movie begins that that was Meghan but it certainly seems like he was knocking someone off.) What Alyssa doesn’t know is that Robert, who lives with his sister Helen (Anne Sward), has the entire building wired with surveillance cameras and he can spy on her literally 24/7 by putting on a pair of virtual-reality goggles. Helen is also nearly as crazy as Robert is, and in some ways she’s the most interesting character in the film but she disappears when Robert kills her about a third of the way in.

In any event, Robert has developed a fixation on Alyssa because she strongly resembles his daughter Jane, product of a marriage that ended bitterly and for whom he leaves messages on her voicemail even though she’s dead — Robert simply never bothered to erase her outgoing message so he can hear her voice every time he calls her number. (Writer Paul Yates and director Daniel Ringey never explain to us just how Jane died, but the implication is that Robert murdered her, too.) There’s also a woman with dark hair whom Alyssa meets in the building’s stairwell, where the woman sneaks out to smoke because her husband Adam (Adrian Gaeta) wants them to have a child and thereby doesn’t want her smoking — indeed, the woman has actually had an abortion, and Robert somehow learned of this and uses it to blackmail her into reassuring Alyssa that Robert is a wonderful guy and he and his wife parted amicably. Alyssa is attracted to another one of the building’s tenants, Oliver Hall (Jack Turner, who isn’t drop-dead gorgeous but is quite easy on the eyes), but Robert is determined to break them up and in one peculiar scene, after Alyssa has gone home with Oliver for a hot sex session but they’re supposed to pretend that they’ve never met before — which Oliver blows by addressing her by name, thereby immediately turning her off (I’m not making this up, you know!), following which Robert arranges their breakup by sending another woman, Stephanie, into Oliver’s apartment so she can take care of his blue balls and later Alyssa can discover them in flagrante delicto, get pissed off at Oliver and break up with him. It gets even weirder when we learn that Stephanie was Alyssa’s stalker back in Louisville — apparently she had a Lesbian crush on Alyssa and was determined that they should be together, and she crashes Alyssa’s apartment and threatens her with a knife until Robert comes in and strikes her on the head, knocking her unconscious and saving Alyssa’s life.

It all comes to a climax on Thanksgiving Day, which Robert tells Alyssa is also Jane’s birthday: he informs her that Jane and her mom are flying out and asks Alyssa to bake her a birthday cake. Only when Alyssa comes over Robert feeds her drugged wine, though before it takes effect he leaves Alyssa alone and she discovers a photo album that contains pictures of Jane, including a copy of the program for her memorial service. So Alyssa finally learns that “Jane” is dead and that Robert is recruiting tenants who look lik her to move into the building so he can get them to take Jane’s place in his life — only, as he explains to her, Meghan was killed because “she fell in love with me, and that was totally inappropriate.” (A Lifetime movie in which the old perv murders the young woman for wanting to have sex with him — that’s a switch.) Ultimately Oliver puts the wThole thing together and breaks into Robert’s apartment in time to rescue Alyssa and shoot Robert with Robert’s own gun, which Alyssa helpfully grabbed from the floor and gave to him — and it appears that Robert dies, though later in a spooky ending Alyssa is on the street on a date with Oliver and sees a man and a woman and hallucinates that they are Robert and yet another young woman “pigeon” who looks like the dead Jane. Fatherly Obsession might have been an entertaining thriller, despite its derivativeness (the schtick of the crazy who wants the heroine to duplicate the child he murdered was done far better in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Copper Beeches” and the film My Name Is Julia Ross), if it weren’t so relentlessly over-the-top: a lot of Lifetime movies begin at 11 and work up to 15 or 16, but this one started at 20, and Ted McGinley’s outrageous performance as Robert is part of the problem. One would think even people as stupid as your average Lifetime character would be able to tell there was something “off” about this guy, though at least Molly McCook is an attractive and personable victim even though I don’t believe for one minute she could actually make a living as an entertainer.