Monday, August 6, 2018

A Sister’s Secret (Lifetime, 2018)

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

Last night I watched two Lifetime movies, including a “premiere” of something called A Sister’s Secret that is so obscure doesn’t even have a page for it yet. I had to glean what information I could about it from Lifetime’s own Web site and a page at A Sister’s Secret is billed as starring former dance music diva Paula Abdul, though she plays the supporting part of Aunt Rose Abbott, who raised twin sisters Elizabeth and Kallie Abbott (both played by Margaret Ann Florence) after their parents were killed in a car crash in 1995. There’s a prologue set at a high-school swim meet in which one of the sisters substitutes for the other in a relay race and helps their school win it, then ogles the cute guy Rick (I don’t know who played him but he’s easily the cutest guy in the film!) who’s hanging out on the diving board even though a comic shot after the sisters leave shows him just jumping off the board, not really diving. The point of this prologue is to establish that no one can tell the sisters apart, though there’s one scene of them together that gives us the main difference between them: one of them loves salsa, the hotter the better, while the other can’t stand the stuff and will poop in her pants if she tries to eat it. I had thought the writers were putting this in on the Anton Chekhov principle that if you introduce a pistol in act one, it has to go off in act three, but no-o-o-o-o, the filmmakers just get their little gag out of this plot point and then dump it completely. The film flashes forward (though we don’t get Lifetime’s usual chyron telling us how many years forward) and Kallie is still living in the sisters’ original home town of Fayetteville, Georgia and is married to an excessively dull and not terribly attractive man named Grady (Donny Boaz) and has had two kids by him. Elizabeth has met a man named Jackson and is working with him in a big office in Atlanta, where they’re partners in an investment management firm. They’re not partners outside the office, though Jackson clearly would like them to be. Elizabeth and Kallie get together one weekend for a visit to Aunt Rose, and out of the older woman’s earshot they make a deal to swap each other’s lives for one week. Elizabeth presents this to Kallie as a lark and expresses concern about what’s going to happen if Kallie’s husband Grady wants to have sex with her. “Don’t worry,” Kallie says. “We haven’t done that in years.” The two make the swap, with Kallie driving off in Elizabeth’s Porsche while Elizabeth takes Kallie’s nondescript something-or-other back to Fayetteville.

Only things turn dark when Kallie decides to use her new-found freedom to go for a night on the town, doing Atlanta’s club scene and getting cruised by a hunky Black D.J. Alas, she’s followed out of the club by another Black man, a sinister, bearded figure named Dylan Fried, and he runs her down with his car, killing her. It turns out that Elizabeth actually knew this might happen and conceived of the swap of identities with her sister in hopes it would save her life — which it did, but at the cost of Kallie’s. Aunt Rose notices the imposture right away but Grady and the kids are clueless, and Elizabeth settles into Kallie’s life of domesticity — while back in Atlanta, Dylan Fried crashes Jackson’s office and demands the return of money Dylan invested in Jackson’s company. Jackson says he no longer has it — he had warned Dylan the investment was speculative and there was a chance that he would lose it all, which indeed happened — but Dylan isn’t the kind to take no for an answer. He responds by pitching Jackson through the big window of Jackson’s office, killing him, then he starts typing on Jackson’s computer. I thought at first he was hacking the computer to get the money back, but it turns out he’s writing a note so police will read it on Jackson’s computer and think Jackson committed suicide. Back in Fayetteville, Elizabeth gets wind of Jackson’s death and realizes his killer will be targeting her next as soon as he realizes he ran down the wrong sister back in Atlanta. She’s approached by a woman cop who’s investigating the deaths of Jackson and Kallie, who doesn’t realize that Elizabeth isn’t Kallie but does notice something “off” about her responses, as if she’s concealing something. Elizabeth eventually breaks down and tells Grady her real identity, and like the boor he is he responds by throwing her out of their house — only Dylan Fried finds their redoubt in the country and starts stalking them.

Eventually the principals learn from a TV news broadcast that Dylan himself has been murdered, but there’s a white guy Dylan was working for who shows up at the country cabin where the principals are staying, and there’s a big fight scene in which the bad guy gets killed — we never find out what illegal enterprise he and Dylan were involved in, but we really don’t need to know — and afterwards one of the return-to-normalcy scenes Lifetime is so big on, in which Elizabeth and Grady have reconciled, they’re clearly attracted to each other, and Elizabeth is about to tell the kids (ya remember the kids?) she’s really their aunt, not their mother, but Grady and Aunt Rose pull them away to go fishing just in time … and there’s a title indicating that Grady and Elizabeth got married nine months later, they told the kids the truth “when they were old enough,” and they’ve been together for 20 years since. The opening credits had proclaimed this film was “inspired by a true story,” but what it comes off like to me is a combination of the 1940’s films A Stolen Life and Hollow Triumph. A Stolen Life, directed by German expat Curtis Bernhardt and co-starring Bette Davis, Bette Davis and Glenn Ford, featured Davis as lookalike twins; the bad Davis seduces Ford away from the good Davis, then tries to kill the good Davis in a rowboat on a lake, only the bad Davis dies instead and the good Davis tries to “steal” her life as Mrs. Glenn Ford. Hollow Triumph, also known as The Scar, was directed by Hungarian expat Steve Sekely and featured Davis’s friend and co-star Paul Henried as a petty criminal who murders and then impersonates a psychiatrist who looks just like him, except for a scar just below his lower lip, only to find out that the psychiatrist was heavily in debt to illegal gamblers who are out to kill him, and therefore Henried’s character is in more trouble in his new identity than he was in his old one. A Sister’s Secret comes off as decent entertainment but no more, O.K. in the usual Lifetime manner but offering no particularly unique or compelling twists on their usual formulae.