Monday, June 25, 2018

A Night to Regret (BondIt, CreativArts Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

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

I was particularly anxious to see the Lifetime “premiere” last night, A Night to Regret, partly because it had looked interesting when it was being “hyped” the night before and partly because Christine Conradt was one of the screenwriters, and her scripts often show more multidimensional characters and a greater sense of character development than the Lifetime norm — indeed, The Bride He Bought Online, which she not only wrote but directed as well, is one of the very best things I’ve seen on the network, with its genuinely pathetic (in the best sense of the term) villain and a central female character whom we want to see punished for her arrogance and hubris but who meets a far worse fate than we would have wanted for her. Alas, A Night to Regret wasn’t anywhere near that level, though on its own terms it was a nice, exciting thriller. Conradt merely co-wrote the original story with Chris Lancey; a third writer, Mark Sanderson, turned it into a screenplay and Tom Shell directed with a nice flair for suspense. The story deals with the tense relationship between Chelsea Bilson (Mollee Gray), who’s attending law school and also studying film — she’s won an award with a student film and is currently making another even though mom worries it will get in their way of her legal coursework — and said mother, Beverly Bilson (Marguerite Moreau), who raised Chelsea as a single parent (we’re never told what happened to Chelsea’s dad) and has high hopes for her law career which an avocation, especially one as time- and money-consuming as film, will just side-track her from. Naturally Chelsea has a best friend, Sara Lopez (Gigi Zumbado), and she also has a boyfriend, though in the opening scenes he breaks up with her for reasons that aren’t altogether clear. His name is Eric Reese (Rory Gibson) and he re-enters the action after Chelsea has her big “night to regret.” She goes to visit her old friend Milla Walters (Kirsten Pfeiffer), the town “bad” girl who got thrown out of high school, bounced around among various homes, substances and boyfriends, but finally settled into a lucrative career running a page on a Web site called “Dahlia’s Playhouse” in which she gets young, nubile women to take their clothes off for the delectation and electronic tips of men.

Milla gets Chelsea to do this by feeding her spiked champagne, and though Chelsea only does it once, once is enough: she attracts the bizarre attentions of Jake Peters (Kevin McNamara), a local gym owner who decides, as soon as he sees Chelsea topless on line, that she’s the girl of his dreams and he’s going to have her by any means necessary. He records her video on his computer and manages to read the filmmaking award for her on her wall, thereby obtaining her real name, and soon he learns her address. He approaches the family by offering free gym memberships to her and her mom — he appears to be following the good ol’ Humbert Humbert strategy of getting access to the daughter by courting the mother — and it’s not clear what he’s after, whether he plans a grand seduction of Chelsea or something nastier. Jake has left a trail of misdeeds across the Internet, including a supplements company he ran that went bankrupt after he embezzled from them and a couple of convictions of assaults against women, and Milla’s business partner and former lover Liam Gregg (Tyler Sellers, easily the cutest guy in this movie) goes to confront Jake about it, only to get stabbed to death for his pains. Eventually Jake kidnaps both Chelsea and Sara — Sara just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — and everybody else in the cast gets together to trace her and ser her free, including mom, Milla and Dean (Jeremy John Wells), a person whose presence in the dramatis personae is pretty unexplained and who looks so much like Jake I wondered if it was Jake and he was getting information and screwing with people’s heads by posing as someone helping investigate the crime he had himself committed. 

At one point Jake takes Chelsea and Sara to an out-of-the-way mountain cabin (“Does every Lifetime villain have to own a cabin?” Charles asked at this point), and Sara escapes and joins the manhunt, but the climax, over-the-top in the best (or worst) Christine Conradt manner, takes place on the roof of a building, where Jake gets confronted by Chelsea’s mom and is ultimately shot down by an Asian-American woman police detective, Morita (Tina Huang), who has finally got access to the information about Jake’s whereabouts. A Night to Regret was an O.K. Lifetime movie, disappointing in how little Conradt and her colleagues gave us in the way of insights into What Made Jake Run (Conradt’s best scripts make her villains multidimensional and even make us feel a bit sorry for them, but this one doesn’t) but exciting in its action scenes and titillating in the shots of Chelsea in bondage at Jake’s various locations, writhing her shorts-clad body in her efforts to get free. It just wasn’t the movie I was expecting from the title or the promos; frankly, I had expected Jake, Milla and Liam to be in cahoots in a human-trafficking business and their ultimate objective being to sell Chelsea into sexual slavery — only Jake screwed up the business deal by genuinely falling in love with her and wanting to get her for himself regardless of what his partners wanted. That would certainly have made him a worthier Christine Conradt character!