Sunday, July 8, 2018

Killer Single Dad (Lietime, 2018)

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

After watching this week’s Saturday “premiere” movie I caught up with last week’s much-hyped one, Killer Single Dad, and despite the ridiculous title it actually turned out to be quite good, considerably better than Room for Murder if only because it had a much more interesting and multidimensional villain. It was directed by Rob Malenfant (I used to make the unfair but obvious pun on his name, “Rob Malefactor,” but he actually turns in an excellent suspense job here) from a script by Ken Sanders (story, though it blessedly does not take place in Sanders’ “Whittendale universe”) and Daniel West (screenplay). The titular killer single dad is Garrett Penderson (Cameron Jebo), who as a college student in Georgia once made some quick money by making a sperm donation to the Breck Fertility Clinic under his real name, David Miller. Then disaster struck: he, his wife Natalie and the two kids they had conceived the old-fashioned way were involved in an auto accident and David a.k.a. Garrett was the sole survivor. Out of grief and rage over the loss of his entire family, he then conceived a crazy and ultimately evil but still understandable plan: he’d trace all the children conceived of his sperm donation, kidnap them and raise them as his own. When we first meet him he’s interviewing potential nannies and he hires an elderly woman named Olivia (played by a charming old British character actress named June Cole, who even gets a special credit — “And June Cole as ‘Olivia’,” indicating that she has some greater reputation than most of the other actors in this piece) to look after the one kid he actually has living with him. Then he fires her after he catches her breaking into his locked office door, which he demanded she stay out of because it contains a map of the United States with pins stuck in it indicating where the mothers are who have conceived children with his sperm, or are still pregnant therefrom. He settles in Los Angeles across the street from one such woman, Jennifer Monroe (Kaitlyn Black), who when director Malenfant cuts to her is in the middle of an argument with her husband Matt (Robert Parks-Valletta). It seems that Jennifer caught Matt kissing another woman, and while Matt insists that’s as far as it went, Jennifer doesn’t believe him and she wants him out of the house immediately. He stalks out, she starts having contractions and falls, and just then Garrett, who had been stalking the Monroes’ home looking for his best shot at grabbing the child once he’s born (it’s established that it’s a son and the Monroes have already named him Connor), sees her collapsed on the floor and calls 911, telling the dispatch operator that he witnessed the Monroes having a fight and he knocked her down. The cops and the ambulance arrives, and the latter takes Jennifer to the hospital, where she hears that if it hadn’t been for that nice young man who wanted to remain anonymous she’d probably be dead.

Jennifer gets out of the hospital and Connor, whose seemingly endless stash of cash to finance his operation is eventually explained by a $500,000 life insurance policy he and his late wife Natalie had on each other, leases the house across the street and moves his whole operation there, both the child we saw him kidnap in the opening scene and the one he’s going to grab in San Diego as the next step in his plan. Only things don’t go according to plan in San Diego: the woman he’s trying to kidnap his baby from catches him in the act, and he strangles her and then burns down her house. The crime gets reported in the media and the story reaches L.A. but no one in law enforcement knows who committed the crime or why. With Matt exiled and not in Jennifer’s good graces, Jennifer has her father John (Paul Messinger) move in with her and she accepts the help of Garrett, who assembles the Ikea (at least that’s what it looked like!) crib she and Matt had bought for the baby and otherwise helps her out around the house, even accompanying her to Lamaze birth classes after her dad, citing a bad back, begs off on getting this involved in her upcoming parenthood. Garrett invites Jennifer’s ex Matt to his home to settle things man-to-man, but then he hits himself over the head with a beer bottle and bashes his own face into a mirror so he can claim Matt assaulted him and get him arrested. Matt traces Garrett’s real name and learns the truth about him, but Jennifer still can’t stand him and won’t take his calls, and it’s only when the baby is about to be born that Garrett kidnaps her, takes her to a remote location in the country (yes, that’s right, he’s another Lifetime villain who has a remote location in the country!), where he plans to deliver her baby himself and then leave her to die. The baby is born safely but Matt is able to trace them, albeit when he shows up and grabs a beam hoping to use it as a weapon, Garrett easily takes it away from him and it’s Jennifer, showing a surprising amount of strength for someone who’s just given birth the really old-fashioned way with no hospital intervention and no anesthetic, who finally grabs a knife from the bizarre set of old-style medical tools Garrett had brought if he needed them for the birth, and stabs him to death — whereupon we see Garrett having a vision of playing with his two original, and long since dead, children as he expires.

What makes Killer Single Dad better than most Lifetime movies is not only the multidimensionality of the writing — Garrett becomes a Christine Conradt-style villain, with understandable motives that make us feel sorry for him even as we hate him — and the superb acting of Cameron Jebo as Garrett. Blond-haired and baby-faced instead of darkly handsome and butch like most Lifetime bad guys, Jebo probably has the most disarming and low-keyed manner of any movie psycho since Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins rewrote the book of how to play homicidal maniacs on screen in Psycho. His overall manner is so cool that it’s genuinely surprising on the few occasions he does lose his temper — I liked Seidel’s touch of having him rage at getting caught in traffic and thereby risking being delayed on his current psycho errand, and then paralleling that with a shot of Matt losing his temper at getting caught in traffic while he’s racing to rescue Jennifer from Garrett — and between them, Seidel as writer and Jebo as star manage to put a surprising amount of flesh on the bare bones of a typical Lifetime villain. Cameron Jebo is one actor who deserves a route out of the Lifetime ghetto and onto full-fledged stardom!