Monday, April 9, 2018

Twin Betrayal (Formula Features, Lifetime, 2018)

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

I watched last night’s Lifetime movie, Twin Betrayal, apparently originally shot under the working title The Duplicate and featuring a tour de force performance by soap-opera star Jen Lilley. She plays twin sisters Jessica Klint and Alexandra Burks — “Klint” is her married name and her husband is a tall, striking-looking and very stuck-up attorney named Lars (Peter Douglas) whom she’s in the process of divorcing and fighting for the custody of their son Danny (Dashiell McGahn-Schletter) —who in the opening scene shows up, as part of her job, in Dallas for a convention of insurance agents. The night before the conference, she shows up and finds that her hotel reservation has been canceled, but a tall, striking-looking man named Harry Gordon (Nick Ballard) offers to help her get a room, then takes her to dinner, then a bar, and finally to his room for sex. The suddenness of his appearance, the tacky “Southern” accent Gordon assumes in his role as a Texan, and Nick Ballard’s gorgeous bod — which we get to see a lot of in a nice soft-core porn scene — all combine to let us know he’s up to no good with Jessica, and the only suspense writer Naomi L. Selfman and director Nadeem Soumah (a name we’ve seen on Lifetime movies before) leave us with is will Jessica’s seeming white knight reveal himself as a rotter in the first act or will we have to wait a couple of commercial breaks before the big reveal. It turns out he shows himself right away: the morning after they’ve made love (and she’s allowed him to tie her up and feed her a pill during their encounter) he reveals that he filmed the whole encounter because he was hired by her husband to get her into a compromising position. (We already had an intimation this was happening because while he was filming their soft-core porn scene director Soumah periodically cut away to shots of the mirror in the room, behind which he had concealed his camera.) Gordon is willing to sell Jessica the video (which is on a flash drive, this being 2018) for $70,000 and double-cross her husband, but she doesn’t have that kind of money. Her father does, but when she asks him to help her, he gives her a cutting lecture and sends her away empty-handed and with a threat to write her out of his will the way he’s already written out her sister. 

Desperate, Jessica comes to her sister, and Alexandra — or “Allie,” as she’s called rather disconcertingly throughout the movie — says she’ll get rid of Gordon for her if Jessica will do her a favor in exchange. They set up a meeting with Gordon at which they both show up and leave him terminally confused as to which woman he seduced and secretly filmed, and they record him incriminating himself in blackmail, thereby getting him to back off. Then Allie recruits Jessica for a complicated scheme to go to Mexico, meet someone in a cantina and exchange hats with him — Jessica worries that she’s being recruited to smuggle something but the real plot is for Allie to murder their father, with Gordon’s help, and frame Jessica for the crime since Jessica’s little Mexican excursion under Allie’s name and with Allie’s identity documents will give Allie an alibi and leave Jessica without one. Jessica ends up being arrested and held without bail for their father’s murder — with him out of the way she’s inherited $10 million, though it will go to Allie in case Jessica is convicted — and the only friends she has are a workplace acquaintance named Madeline Walters (Yasmine Aker) and a police detective named Sikes (Jason Olive), a relatively light-skinned African-American who’s cute enough we wonder if he’s part of Allie’s scheme. Of course, since Lars is good-looking we assume he, too, is part of Allie’s plot, and indeed he is: the two hired Gordon together (though we’ve had intimations along the way that Allie has used Gordon as yet another of her boy-toys) and Lars takes Jessica’s case (he’s an attorney, remember?) but destroys the key piece of exculpatory evidence, yet another secret tape which Jessica entrusted to Maddie. (There’s a grimly funny sequence in which Lars visits Jessica in prison and brings her what’s supposed to be the tape but turns out to have an opera singer’s voice on it.) Lars also briefly convinces Jessica that Maddie double-crossed her and is Allie’s co-conspirator, but in the end Jessica and detective Sikes get it all figured out, Jessica is freed and Allie and Lars are arrested — only a final tag scene I could have done without leaves us with the intimation that once again Allie has outsmarted everyone and that she impersonated Jessica and got out while still leaving Jessica to pay for Allie’s crimes.  

Twin Betrayal is Lifetime at its most frustrating: the basic premise is a good one (even though we’ve seen it before — the good twin-bad twin stuff from Bette Davis’s 1948 vehicle A Stolen Life and the blackmail from another Davis film, The Letter, and the innocent-woman-framed-for-murder-by-her-husband from Dial “M” for Murder and its progeny) and the scenes in which Jessica and Allie both appear on screen, done with digital technology that eliminates the need for the split screens and doubles A Stolen Life’s director, Curtis Bernhardt, had to use, are utterly convincing and stunning. But Selfman’s plot is just too complicated, with so many reversals I couldn’t help but wonder if “Naomi L. Selfman” is an alias for Tony Gilroy and so many curveballs thrown at the audience we begin to wonder after a while just who is doing what to whom, and why. This is also a typical modern movie in that there’s no one in it we really like — Jessica is too naïve and stupid to be a heroine we can identify with, and it seems like everyone else in her life is part of the plot to destroy her — and so, despite some nice bits of male flesh and a good performance by Jen Lilley in the leads (she makes some subtle distinctions between the two characters but doesn’t overdo it the way Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland did in similar dual roles), Twin Betrayal comes off as just another chip off the old Lifetime block.