Monday, August 6, 2018

The Wrong Cruise (Hybrid/Lifetime, 2018)

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

After A Sister’s Secret I stayed with Lifetime for a repeat showing of one of their recent “premieres,” The Wrong Cruise, which judging from the title and the basic premise I thought was going to be a modern-day version of the marvelous 1934 film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, a combination murder mystery and musical set on an ocean liner with the obvious frisson that the other characters can’t escape from the killer since they’re all together on a ship in the mid-Atlantic. Instead it was a depressingly ordinary thriller set mostly on land — La Paz, Mexico, to be exact — and deals with middle-aged African-American woman Claire Turner (Vivica A. Fox) and her daughter Skylar, generally called “Sky” (Sidney Nicole Rogers). Some months before the film starts, Claire’s husband was killed in an accident, and ever since then Sky has been acting up in school — in the opening scene we see her punch out another girl in P.E. because she’d been bullying a third girl, but since she remains silent on why she hit the bully, she gets a two-week suspension and the threat of expulsion if she’s ever caught acting out of line again. Claire has already booked a three-day cruise down the West Coast to Baja California, Mexico, and she takes Sky along as planned mainly because she doesn’t want to let her daughter out of her sight. Unfortunately, some sinister people are on to their identities — we know that because we’ve seen a scene of otherwise unidentified hands doing a search on a computer and turning up the Tanners’ identities — and so they go on the cruise facing danger to which they’re oblivious.

It turns out they’re being set up by a gang of three crooks, Dante (Andres Londono), his young ward Rico (the genuinely hot twink Adrian Quinta, who deserves a shot at better roles than this), and the cruise director Pat (William McNamara), who’s willing to sell out his passengers for a third of the take. (Actually it was only supposed to be 20 percent, but midway through the plot Pat holds out for more.) Their first task is to seduce their pigeons — Dante manages to have sex with Claire and Rico with Sky — we get the impression that this is the first time Claire has had sex since her husband died and the first time Sky has had sex at all — and the next morning Dante offers, while the ship is stopped at La Paz, to take Claire out for a day trip on his sailboat. Only he pretends that the motor is broken and strands Claire out in mid-sea, then gives her drugged champagne and when she comes to reveals that he’s actually kidnapped her for a nefarious purpose. Meanwhile Rico offers to take Sky to the police, but instead drives her at night to an out-of-the-way location where he and his confederates are going to hold her and threaten to kill her if Claire doesn’t pay them the $1 million in life insurance she got from the death of her husband. We also learn the significance of the scene we saw at the opening — a blonde woman frees herself from rope bondage — that the Terrible Trio have done this sort of thing before and at least four women have “disappeared” from earlier cruises on the same line. It seems that Dante, the ringleader of the three, originally was just after the money but as he’s done this more often he’s become more openly sadistic, having fun psychologically torturing their victims and then killing them, despite Pat’s protests that this will blow the whole thing if his cruise line becomes notorious for having middle-aged women mysteriously disappear on every voyage. Rico has a crisis of conscience which better, more sensitive filmmakers than the ones we got here (director David DeCoteau and writers Jeffrey Schenck, Peter Sullivan and Nick Everhart, all old Lifetime hands) might have made into a real dramatic issue instead of an annoying affectation, and my expectations that Rico would eventually turn state’s evidence against the gang and give the Mexican police the evidence needed to bust them were dashed when Dante, realizing Rico can no longer be trusted, off-handedly kills him just after he’s ambushed and shot both Pat and Pat’s girlfriend, who had come out to the deserted country cabin (not another deserted country cabin!) to rendezvous with him.

The filmmakers do one genuinely creative thing with their story: in the last half-hour Dante off-handedly surprises and kills a Mexican cop and then puts on his uniform and impersonates him (it’s been established previously that Dante speaks both English and Spanish perfectly), so for the last half-hour of the movie Claire and Sky are fleeing through Mexico while they’ve been reported to the authorities as fugitives from justice who killed a Mexican police officer. Alas, there’s a continuity glitch as the car Dante has stolen from the real cop he killed says “Policia Estatil” (State Police) while the jacket he’s wearing, ostensibly stolen from the real cop Dante killed, reads “Policia Municipal” (City Police). There’s also a bad mistake in that midway through their flight Claire and Sky stop at a Gilmore gas station in the interior of Baja and make off with the station owner’s car — all Mexican gas stations are run by the state-owned oil company Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos) and carry the Pemex logo. Nonetheless, The Wrong Cruise takes on a Kafka-esque aspect as the heroines are fleeing not only from a psycho killer impersonating a Mexican cop but from the real Mexican cops — though when they’re finally caught by genuine police they persuade them ridiculously easily that they’re innocent and Dante, whom Claire has killed by smashing his head in with a wrench, was the real bad guy. The Wrong Cruise, like A Sister’s Secret, is a pretty ordinary Lifetime movie, and the only interesting visual effect director DeCoteau and cinematographer Ben Demaree get is some interesting color changes as Dante is seen in the alternating blinking blue and red lights of the police car he commandeered. As I said, this would have been a more interesting movie if it had all taken place (aside from the establishing scenes) on the ocean liner instead of on land — at the end officials from the U.S. consulate show up and offer the Tanners a flight back home — and the gimmick of having the bad guy pose as a cop makes the last half-hour a bit more powerful than it would have been otherwise, but this is still pretty ordinary to-the-Lifetime-pattern filmmaking, not offensively bad but nothing special either.