Sunday, April 29, 2018

Lethal Admirer (Cartel Pictures, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

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

I wanted to watch last night’s Lifetime movie, a fairly good one for the genre called Lethal Admirer. It begins in Seattle, which we know because we can see the Space Needle on the skyline, and shows a love scene between Our Heroine, Megan Libby (Karissa Lee Staples), and her boyfriend Jack Porter (Chad Duell). They’re outdoors in a park on one of Seattle’s rare non-rainy days (yes, I know that’s a stereotype), where Jack is wrapping up his yoga class — you can tell because a number of people around him are rolling up their yoga mats — where Megan, who works for a high-tech company doing something writers Suju Abraham (story) and D. C. Freedman and Brooke Purdy (script) don’t quite explain but which appears to be pretty high-level. Then we see another onlooker, Lloyd Morrow (Drew Seeley), who of course is going to turn out to be the “lethal admirer” of the title: he’s watching Megan and Jack as Jack bends down before her, offers to marry her, and presents her with an engagement ring that he says belonged to his late mother and was the engagement ring she got from his dad.

Just when we’re wondering how the casting directors at Cartel Pictures and Reel One Entertainment screwed up by giving Megan an on-screen boyfriend considerably hotter-looking than her stalker — the usual iconography of Lifetime movies is that the hottest-looking guy in the cast is almost always the principal villain (unless it’s part of the sub-genre of Lifetime movies in which the heroine is imperiled by another woman instead of a man) — the writers and director Craig Goldstein come along and have Lloyd approach Jack with a knife and stab him to death. Megan receives word of her fiancé’s death while she’s at work, and the shock leads her to ask her boss to transfer her to another branch of the company in another city (the locale isn’t named by the writing committee but it seems to be Los Angeles, where the bulk of the film was shot), where she’s immediately put in charge of a huge project that’s leading up to a presentation. Megan’s immediate supervisor is Pete (Matthew Borlenghi), who casts her burning looks and at one point, when he’s about to leave town for a conference in Seattle, he accosts her in the parking lot and gives her a goodbye hug that starts looking as if it’s going to turn into Pete getting in touch with his inner Harvey Weinstein. It’s not going to do him any good, though, because in the meantime Megan has met up with another guy, attorney Chris (Brian Ames) — who once again is considerably better-looking than Lloyd, who has followed her to L.A. (or wherever) and ensconced himself in an old Victorian house he’s renting (Megan once told Lloyd, whom she considered a friend she could talk to even though she’s never thought of him as boyfriend material, that she grew up in a Victorian house and would like to own one someday), where he’s plastering the walls with the secret photos he’s taken of Megan. This is pretty standard operating procedure for a movie stalker, but Lloyd isn’t exactly your typical movie stalker; instead of just pasting or tacking the photos on the wall helter-skelter, he’s got them framed and in neat rows.

I give the writers of this one credit for at least attempting to give us some insight into What Makes Lloyd Run; he’s repeatedly shown on the phone to his mother, who along the lines of the crazy moms in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Psycho is just as demented as he is, and every time he mentions he’s got a new girlfriend (he means Megan) she tells him that the way to keep her affections is to make “grand gestures.” Lloyd interprets this as meaning he should knock off anyone who’s in his way; he sneaks into Pete’s SUV and, just after he’s had his unexpectedly (to her, not to us!) intimate encounter with Megan in the parking lot, his black-gloved hands sneak around from the back seat and strangle him just before he’s ready to drive out. He also sabotages a ladder Megan’s actual boyfriend Chris is about to use to climb to the roof of his house to do some work on it, though Chris ends up with a broken leg and a broken arm but is still alive and is being tended to at the local hospital by Megan’s sister Jenna (Lila Dupree), a nurse who’s feeling envious towards her sister both because she has a boyfriend and she has a better — or at least considerably more lucrative and less schedule-deranging — job. Just then Megan gets an invitation to the wedding of one of her former co-workers from the Seattle office; the invitation is for two but since Chris is still laid up from the injuries he suffered in that “accident” with the ladder, she inexplicably invites Lloyd along as her “date.” On the drive up to Seattle Lloyd confides in Megan that his father died when Lloyd was 10 of an “accident” in which he fell down stairs; we, of course, make the connection at once — Lloyd killed his dad way back when because he thought dad was in the way (perhaps of the near-incestuous relationship he had with mom, who’s shown in bed receiving Lloyd’s calls with an almost lubricious glow on her face) — but Megan remains oblivious. Once at the ceremony the night before the wedding, Lloyd uses that opportunity to make a public declaration of his love for Megan, breaking up the party and embarrassing Megan, who tells him up-front that she likes him as a friend but has no interest in him “that way.” She leaves immediately and leaves Lloyd stranded up there, but he eventually makes his way back to L.A. (or wherever) and the climax occurs when Lloyd invites Megan to his home for a steak dinner and Megan, displaying an incredible naïveté even by Lifetime-heroine standards, goes.

In the meantime. Lloyd goes to Chris’s home to finish the job on him, since the sabotaged ladder merely disabled but didn’t kill him, and as Chris sits helplessly on his couch, his phone in sight but out of reach, Lloyd finds a baseball bat in Chris’s home and clubs him with it. Lloyd gets very controlling at the dinner table and Megan tries to alert her sister Jenna by turning on her phone and broadcasting the goings-on at Lloyd’s table, but Lloyd catches her and says, “No phones at the dinner table.” Lloyd ends up with his steak knife at Megan’s throat and Megan tries to fight back by stabbing him with her steak knife, but he’s about to overpower and kill her when Jenna shows up with the cops, and Lloyd — rare for a Lifetime villain — is actually taken into custody alive instead of being killed or (less commonly) escaping. Blessedly the writers avoid giving us one of the increasingly frequent (and annoying) postludes showing Lloyd in prison or an institution still nursing his dementia and vowing revenge. Lethal Admirer isn’t a bad movie as Lifetime movies go — if Christine Conradt had been writing the script she might have been able to make Lloyd’s backstory more interesting and Lloyd himself a figure of complexity we’d even feel a bit sorry for, but the writers at least make him a bit more than a cardboard villain, a charming enough character that at one point Megan even tries to play matchmaker between him and her sister Jenna. Aside from that, and the welcome casting of two genuinely sexy guys as Megan’s love interests (even though one of them doesn’t even make it out of the first reel!), Lethal Admirer is pretty much cut to the traditional Lifetime pattern, and it doesn’t help that the actress playing Megan, Karissa Lee Staples, is blank enough one has a hard time imagining that three guys in the dramatis personae are all in love with her — though her blankness at least helps make the character’s naïveté believable!