Sunday, March 4, 2018

Bad Tutor (Blue Sky Films, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

At 8 p.m. last night I sat with Charles to watch the Lifetime “premiere” movie, Bad Tutor, though Charles said he reserved the right to leave the room if Lifetime’s usual formulae wore him down — which they did after just 15 minutes’ worth of running time, even before the first commercial break! Bad Tutor was the latest in Lifetime’s series of “The Perfect … ,” “The Wrong … ,” and “Bad … ” movies, and one wonders when they’ll run out of personal-service professions or relationships they can have their twisted protagonists use to insinuate themselves into the lives of their victims. The movie, directed by Jeff Hare from a script by J. Bryan Dick and Delanie Fischer, isn’t actually bad, but one gets the idea that Mr. Dick (a great name for a Lifetime writer doing these steamy stories about twisted sexual attractions — it was especially, if unwittingly, amusing when he’s worked with Barbara Kymlicka and my dirty mind fantasized about what Mr. Dick might be doing with Ms. Cum-Licker when they weren’t actually working on the scripts!) and Ms. Fischer had a checklist for Lifetime thriller writers they were working from, checking off each element as they included it. Twisted, obsessive stalker protagonist who weasels his way into a decent, normal family? Check: we learn that about Devin Fletch (Charles Hillinger, who isn’t as drop-dead gorgeous as some of Lifetime’s previous villains but is actually well cast: attractive enough that he can attract women but creepy enough that we understand why he can’t keep one) in the opening scene, when he gets down on his knees on top of a precipice overlooking a California state beach, offers his latest amour a ring and asks her to marry him. “Girl, it’s not a good idea to say no to a Lifetime stalker on the edge of a precipice,” I talked back to the TV, and just as those words were out of my mouth Devin, not taking rejection at all well, pushes her over and she falls to her death. 

The scene then cuts to the home of woman dentist Kelli Armstrong (Vanessa Marcil), who’s living in a gorgeous beachfront home with her high-school senior daughter Emily (Alex Frnka — “That woman needs to buy a vowel!” Charles joked when he saw her credit), whom she’s raising as a single parent, and she’s worried that Emily is getting D’s in chemistry and that might drag down her grade-point average so that she won’t get into a good college. (If she’s applying to Whittendale University — at least two people involved with this movie, co-producer Ken Sanders and writer Dick, worked on films set in the “Whittendale Universe” — she’s probably better off not getting accepted, since virtually all the Lifetime movies about Whittendale have been about nubile young female students selling their bodies as prostitutes, mistresses or porn stars to pay Whittendale’s tuition.) So she determines to hire Emily a tutor, even though Emily couldn’t be less interested either in chemistry or college; what she wants to do is to make music in a band with her (so far platonic) boyfriend Steve Garson (the actor, alas, is unidentified on even though not only is he the cutest guy in the movie, he delivers the most interesting and authoritative performance), and the song sung by either Alex Frnka or her voice double is quite the most entertaining thing in the film. Nonetheless, she yields to her mom’s entreaties and agrees to be tutored by Karine Ayers (played by someone also not named on, a middle-aged woman who’s a retired teacher — though she lives in a house Charles found way too lavish to be inhabited by a retired teacher unless a late husband left her a fortune — only Devin, who when he’s not stalking and killing young women works as a lab technician at the Medford chemical company and therefore knows chemistry, breaks into her house and spikes his coffee with a drug, so when she shows up for her first day of work at the Armstrongs’ she’s so obviously stoned Kelli thinks better of hiring her and sends her home. 

Devin insinuates himself into the Armstrong home and makes up a fake business card identifying himself as a chemistry tutor, and the Armstrongs hire him — but not only is he clearly up to no good (he notices on Emily’s bedroom wall a poster for the indie band “Seth Vertigo” and shows up for his next tutoring session wearing a Seth Vertigo T-shirt and claiming to be a huge fan, though he gives himself away by not knowing the names of any of their songs), she makes up an excuse to sneak away to Steve and their band’s rehearsal, but Devin catches her and lets the air out of her car’s tire so it will be flat, she’ll be late and her mom will catch her. (She agreed to be tutored if her mom would sign up for Internet dating — we never quite learn what happened to Emily’s dad — though one wonders why the people in Lifetime movies never seem to have seen Lifetime movies, including the ones about the psychos you meet through Internet dating.) Her mom catches he but, instead of grounding her as Devin was expecting and hoping, says basically that it’s her life and if she bombs in chemistry, can’t get into a good college and has to work menial jobs hoping for that big break in music that will never come, that’s her look-out. At this point Devin decides to frame Steve and get him out of Emily’s life by sneaking over to the restaurant at which they’re having their first formal date, spiking her iced tea with Rohypnol, then planting a bag of it in Steve’s car and telling the hostess that he saw Steve spike her drink — so Emily collapses on the floor of the restaurant, she’s taken to the emergency room and Steve is busted for drugs. At this point you’re wondering whether the writers are going to make Steve the avenging-angel character who pieces together the whole plot, or if they’re going to make him Devin’s next victim — and they choose the latter: Devin slips him a drug and, when he’s unconscious, locks him in his garage, turns the car on and make it looks like he’s committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Devin then tells Emily he has contacts in L.A. that can help get her a recording contract, and with that as a lure he gets her to run away from home and join him, where they spend the night in a motel and have sex — alas, the writers and director don’t give us the soft-core porn scene that’s sometimes made otherwise dull Lifetime movies interesting — only Devin invites her the next day to the same cliff he pushed his previous girlfriend off, intending to propose to her and push her off if she rejects him. In addition to all the standard Lifetime clichés, the writers have also ripped off the schtick of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Copper Beeches” and the film My Name Is Julia Ross by having the psycho go after his current victim because she strongly resembles the one he loved — and killed — before. Eventually it’s Jared (Ben Reed), the middle-aged man Emily’s mom Kelli met online, who takes on the avenging-angel role, and in the end it appears as if Devin has fallen off the fatal cliff — only in a final tag scene that’s itself become an annoying Lifetime cliché, he turns up alive at the end, going to the University of Washington in Seattle and hitting on yet another girl, Chelsea (Ashton Smiley), who reminds him of his earlier love … It’s one of those Lifetime movies in which the poor actors do what they can with under-motivated characters going through clichéd situations, and one can’t help but wonder why Emily actually goes for Devin sexually — maybe it’s because he looks like her late boyfriend Steve’s older brother; in fact, for some reason casting director Jeff Hardwick came up with three male leads who look enough like each other one could imagine casting them as a family, with Ben Reed as the father and Charles Hittinger and whoever played Steve as his sons. There’s nothing really wrong with Bad Tutor except the sense that we’ve seen it all before and the writers had written it all before!