Sunday, June 10, 2018

Psycho Brother-in-Law (The Asylum, Lifetime, 2017)

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

I got to see the second Lifetime rerun on last night, a film from 2017 from The Asylum (which actually releases theatrically, though their theatrical films tend to be quickies attempting to grab the audience for a public-domain story or plot premise: they rushed out versions of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars just before major studios released big-budget versions, and other films on their list include Ghosthunters and The Fast and the Fierce) called Psycho Brother-in-Law. An opening credit says this was inspired by a true story, though as Charles said about the film Shine it’s obvious that if this is a true story, the filmmakers (director/co-writer José Montesinos and his co-writer, Delondra Williams) chose it because they could easily shoehorn it into the familiar Hollywood clichés — in this case, the familiar Lifetime clichés. Set in Brisbane, California (though filmed in Pacifica), Psycho Brother-in-Law opens with a prologue in which young Brisbane High School student Eric Campbell (Marc Herrmann) is about to be beaten up by a blond bully when his brother David (Mitch McCoy) comes onto the scene and starts whacking the guy with a baseball bat, and though Eric tries to warn David off once Eric is out of danger, David continues the assault and eventually kills the bully. Then we get a typical Lifetime title, “23 Years Later” — a lot of Lifetime movies begin with these sorts of prologues but the time jump is rarely as long as 23 years — and 23 years later Eric (Mike Duff) is a rising high-tech executive. We’re really not sure what he’s doing or why he’s taking so much time doing it (if Montesinos and Williams had made him an entrepreneur doing a start-up it would be more believable than if he’s just an employee, even one relatively high up in his organization), but his long absences from home and his general exhaustion when he does show up are getting under the skin of his wife Kay (Brittany Falardeau, top-billed) and their teenage daughter Laura (Megan Ashley Brown), who’s inherited her dad’s mathematics skills and is practicing for some sort of school competition in the subject. David (Zack Gold, who for once in a movie looks enough like the actor cast as his brother that we can believe they really are brothers), Eric’s younger brother, shows up out of a clear blue sky one day and says he’s on vacation from a lucrative job crab-fishing in Alaska. Eric isn’t there when David shows up but Kay impulsively invites him to stay in their guest room until he’s ready to return to work. Then the usual incidents of a Lifetime movie start to happen that indicate David isn’t the charming, genuinely cute guy he seems to be.

When the two brothers are out drinking in a singularly unconvincing bar set and a fat guy with a beard (who looks like the director and former All in the Family actor Rob Reiner really gone to seed) claims Eric jostled him, David practically starts a fight then and there until Eric is able by the skin of his teeth to call off his wild brother. When yet another work commitment — of which there are so many Kay starts wondering if there’s a woman involved in the “work” situation and Eric is cheating on her, though he insists there isn’t and it’s clear that, unusually for a husband in a Lifetime movie, we’re supposed to believe him — causes Eric to break their “date night” and David offers to go on Kay’s date in her husband’s place, the two have a great time and Kay admits later she’s starting to develop “feelings” for David even though she’s not pursuing an affair. Later, however, we learn that David served a four-year term in a psychiatric hospital for manslaughter after he killed Eric’s assailant there and he’s been diagnosed as paranoid and potentially violent — and in a key scene that lets us know just when, how and why he’s going to go off the rails, Montesinos shows him unscrewing a pill bottle and then closing it again. Obviously David’s decided to go off his meds, and the results are predictable: he runs into the fat guy whom he and Eric had that run-in in the bar several acts earlier and strangles him on the street — the guy has a gun on him and tries to pull it, but David overpowers him, gets the gun away and takes it with him after he’s killed the guy (remember the sacred words of St. Anton Chekhov that when you establish a pistol in act one, someone has to fire it in act three). Then, when Laura’s boyfriend Ron (Billy Meade), a wanna-be musician who drives around in a dowdy, once-hot Pontiac Firebird, drives her home after a date and wants to get more physical than she does), David comes to Laura’s rescue, pulls her out of Ron’s car and then beats Ron nearly to death — obviously this is a man who is ferocious and animalistic when it comes to defending members of his family! Eric and David, who in the meantime has confessed that he was fired from that crab-fishing job instead of just taking a layoff from it, go on a male-bonding fishing trip — only David brings along the gun (ya remember the gun?) and shoots Eric because he’s decided to eliminate his inconvenient brother and take his place as Kay’s husband and Laura’s dad.

The finale takes place at Eric’s and Kay’s home, when David comes, holds the two women at gunpoint and announces that he’s killed Eric and will be taking over as head of the family — only, natch, there’s been a deus ex machina in the form of another fisherman who was walking through the woods with his fishing pole whistling (the shot is so much like the opening of the old Andy Griffith Show on TV one expects him to be with his son and whistling the TV show’s theme!) when he comes upon Eric, realizes he’s been shot but is only wounded instead of dead, calls 911 — and eventually Eric comes to enough to alert the police to what’s going on and tell them his homicidal maniac brother is threatening his wife and daughter. The cops duly arrive and tell David to put his gun down and surrender, but instead he “commits suicide by cop” and lets the police blow him away on the home’s staircase. Psycho Brother-in-Law is yet another Lifetime movie whose hackneyed, clichéd situations are at least partially redeemed by the skill of the participants: Zack Gold turns in a nicely controlled performance in the title role, managing both the character’s infectious charm when he’s on his meds and the dangerous craziness that overtakes him when he isn’t. José Montesinos proves skilled at building suspense and creating a sense of menace even in pretty ordinary suburban settings, and overall this is one of Lifetime’s better efforts even though there’s one major plot hole. In the prologue it looks like David is older than Eric, but in the main story he’s younger — which led both Charles and I to expect a plot twist in which it would turn out that way back when it was Eric who killed David’s tormentor (since in the prologue the two brothers never addressed each other by name) and then framed David to take the blame for it. For that matter, I also half-expected David to have the hots, not for his sister-in-law, but for her daughter — one of Laura’s schoolmates even kids her about being with such a hot guy, and she insists, “He’s my uncle!” — adding incest to Lolita-style injury. Psycho Brother-in-Law also fits with the usual Lifetime trope in that the genuinely hot guy is the villain; though (as I noted above) Mike Duff and Zack Gold look enough like each other to be believable as brothers on-screen, Gold, playing the psycho, is clearly the sexy one!