Monday, March 26, 2018

Stalked by a Reality Star (Blue Sky Films, Lifetime, 2018)

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

Two nights ago Charles and I had watched another Lifetime movie that was considerably better than My Husband’s Secret Life despite having an even more risible title: Stalked by a Reality Star, which sounds like writers Ken Sanders (story — he was also one of the producers and, though this film isn’t set in it, he’s the creator of the “Whittendale Universe”) and Aidan Scott (script) brainstormed over the question, “What’s the most ridiculous title we can think of for a Lifetime movie?” Stalked by a Reality Star is the story of 17-year-old Kendra (Emily Bader); her ludicrously overprotective mother, Linn (Cynthia Preston, top-billed), who works long hours as a nurse at the local hospital (this is set in L.A.); her best friend at school, an African-American girl named Mischa (Asia Jackson) — a girl named Mischa? — and Brad Banton (Robert Scott Wilson), the titular reality-TV star and hunk to die for whose show, Finding Love (t/n: The Bachelor) is moving towards its climax. Watching Finding Love is about the only regular entertainment Linn allows herself — even when she’s on duty at the hospital she insists on watching it, in the patients’ rooms if necessary — and she makes sure that Kendra watches it with her because Kendra’s school schedule and Linn’s work schedule clash so much it’s about the only thing they can actually do together. (Charles and I can relate!) One day, Mischa scores two invitations to an exclusive party at a Hollywood nightclub and fake I.D.’s so they can get in and drink, and at first Kendra begs off because it’s the night Finding Love is on and she and her mom always watch it together. Then Kendra catches her mom at the hospital sucking face with Dr. Ty Warson (Brian McGovern), the first man Linn has been interested in since Kendra’s father died in the backstory, and she’s so upset by this that she bails on Finding Love — figuring that her mom has already found it anyway and would rather spend the night on a date with Ty than watching that stupid show — and goes to the party with Mischa. 

Well, if you’ve seen more than two Lifetime movies in your own lifetime you’ll know instantly who the guest of honor is: that’s right, Brad Banton, who’s as dreamy in person as he is on the show. As fooled by Kendra’s fake I.D. as everyone else at the party, Brad takes her home with him, comes on to her big-time and is about to embrace her preparatory to sex, whether she really wants it or not, when she blurts out, “I’m 17!” The threat of a statutory-rape charge is enough to calm him down for the moment, but something about Kendra has snagged a trip-wire in his consciousness: he immediately decides she’s the woman of his dreams and if he has to wait a few months until she turns 18 and is therefore “legal,” he will. Until then he’s going to keep in touch with her constantly, not only clogging up her smartphone with his texts (Lifetime’s writers are finally acknowledging how young people communicate with each other these days!) but stalking her at home and even crashing the school’s drama department, where she’s auditioning to play Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Needless to say, the sight of him instantly freezes her up and she bolts the audition. Abandoned by Ty, who thought Kendra was a bit too much to take on, Linn gets courted by Brad, who’s hit on the Lolita plan: date the mom to get close to her nubile young daughter. What’s more, Linn falls hard for Brad — he already was her TV crush object, remember? — and refuses to believe anything bad Kendra has to say about him. At one point Kendra complains to the police, but the calls are taken by a detective named Bartlett (D. Elliot Woods), who at first seems like the kind of avuncular African-American authority figure Lifetime often brings in to save the white characters from the consequences of their own stupidities. Later, though, he becomes convinced that there’s nothing wrong with Brad and everything that seems wrong with him is a product of Kendra’s overactive imagination. At one point he asks Kendra, “Have you ever heard the story of the boy who cried wolf?” “Yeah,” she says, “and you know how it ended? There was a real wolf!” 

The only person in Kendra’s life who does believe her is a cute blond boy named Jake, who’s played by someone named Jordan Doww (that’s right, “Doww” with two “w”’s), who’s described on as “an actor, writer, director, comedian and YouTube personality” who grew up in Detroit and moved to L.A. in 2014 “to pursue his dreams of acting, improv work and theatre.” For once I found the good guy in a Lifetime movie considerably more appealing than the bad guy — and for once a Lifetime casting director put a good-looking actor in the role of a computer nerd instead of looking for an overweight kid with glasses. Jake examines Kendra’s computer and realizes it’s been tampered with, injected with malware that had to be uploaded through a physical connection to it instead of from the Internet  — only Kendra’s mom Linn says she installed the software to track her because she thinks Kendra’s delusions are becoming more dangerous to her. Kendra decides to burglarize Brad’s house, not knowing it has a security system that alerts him immediately wherever he is if he’s broken into, and when Jake finds out what she has in mind he insists on coming along. The MacGuffin they’re after is a Polaroid selfie Brad took of the two of them the night she was there; they find it and Kendra gets away, but Jake is caught photographing Brad’s secret wall, where there’s a photo of every girl with whom he’s had a similarly obsessive relationship — including the one he told Kendra was the only other “real love” of his life, Allison (dead at the outset of the story but played in flashbacks by Amanda Maddox), who was killed in a car crash just as he was about to marry her. Jake disappears and we assume he’s been killed by Brad — Kendra even saw someone loading what looked like a body into the trunk of Brad’s car but it turned out to be a set of golf clubs — but in the end Kendra and Linn end up at Brad’s home. 

The real villain turns out to be not Brad but his formidable manager, Mrs. Hall (Cinda Adams), who it turns out is also his mother; she realized she could build Brad into a huge TV star but his dick kept getting the plans in trouble, and when she realized he was genuinely serious about Allison she killed her and faked it to look like an accident. It also turns out that Jake is still alive, though tied up in the home Brad and his mom share, and in the end the police, finally convinced the threat to Kendra is serious, come and arrest Brad and his mom, and the good people are rescued — with Kendra giving a quick kiss to Jake as he’s carted in a gurney into the ambulance that will take him to be saved from whatever it was Brad and Mrs. Hall did to him. Stalked by a Reality Star is a silly title and most of the movie is pretty much cut to Lifetime’s usual pattern, but the people involved in this one — including the usually slovenly director Robert Malenfant — did it better than usual, and I was glad and relieved to see Jake kept alive and headed for Kendra’s arms at the end. (Actually I thought it was going to be Kendra’s African-American friend Mischa who’d discover Brad’s secrets and get offed for her pains.) The part of Stalked by a Reality Star I found especially engaging was the parallel between Kendra’s and Linn’s relationship on one side, and Brad’s and Mrs. Hall’s on the other: both rather immature young people being kept under control, and arguably overcontrolled, by overprotective mothers — one gets the impression Brad isn’t a total villain and in fact could have turned out to be a good human being if his mom hadn’t so totally shielded him and got him out of the scrapes he was supposed to learn from and grow up!