Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Wrong Friend (Hybrid/Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2019 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

So is The Wrong Friend — another in a Lifetime series of movies with the title “The Wrong _____” (my favorite so far is The Wrong Car, about a rapist and killer who meets his victims by picking them up as an Uber driver … though of course they called it something else!) and a pretty typical Lifetime tale about the new student in a prestigious but still public high school, Chris Andrews (the strikingly handsome Jared Scott), whose well-heeled family (at first we think his dad is a computer tycoon but later it’s revealed he’s a high-powered super-attorney) has been buying him out of one scrape after another. They’ve just had to pull him out of the ultra-exclusive St. Joseph’s private school — one of those places where the children of the 1 percent are trained to assume their hereditary mantle of getting to run the country and everyone and everything in it (The Wrong Friend is surprisingly class-conscious for a Lifetime movies, though others, including the marvelous Restless Virgins, have done this even better!) — and they get him into Kennedy, a better-than-average but still public school (one wonders whether writer Adam Rockoff thought of it as a charter school) whose principal, Atkins (Vivica A. Fox, a Black woman similar in appearance and “type” to S. Epatha Merkerson on the original Law and Order, and one with enough of a following some of the reviewers complained about the brevity of her part), agrees to admit Chris Andrews as a student in exchange for the Andrews parents making a major donation to the school’s information technology department. Chris immediately zeroes in on Riley Cramer (Li Eubanks), a student of ambiguous ethnicity — she looks African-American but her mom Jaclyn (Galyn Görg) looks like a Mediterranean type (though’s bio of Görg lists her as the product of a German father and a Native American, African-American and Irish mother) and one wonders whether she’s the product of an interracial marriage and the father who walked out on the family in the backstory was full-blooded African-American (to the extent that anyone actually is full-blooded African-American given how much coerced interracial fucking was going on between women slaves and their male masters in the ante-bellum days).

Jaclyn is a nurse who’s worked multiple shifts and stayed away a lot to make enough money to raise Riley as a single parent, and Chris is not only from a filthy-rich family he’s home alone a lot because his folks are jet-setting to one exotic vacation locale or another quite often. During one of these jaunts Chris decides to host a party and thereby ingratiate himself to his new classmates by letting them swim in his family’s pool and help themselves to his parents’ stash of alcoholic beverages, and he slips a drug into Riley’s drink, then takes her to his bedroom and not only has his wicked way with her while she’s powerless to resist but photographs the whole thing and sends the pics first to Riley’s estranged boyfriend Matt (Cole Reinhardt), a typical dumb jock who’s more butch than Chris but considerably less sexy (at least to me), then to Riley herself. Riley and her mom complain to the police but are told by Lt. Forni (Michael Paré, a name that meant nothing to me but Charles recognized him in the credits as a young action figure in movies like Streets of Fire and Eddie and the Cruisers in the 1980’s; Charles said Paré’s looks have fallen even farther than the norm for such young pretty-boys when they hit middle age) flat-out that the Andrewses have way too much money and clout to be prosecuted for Chris’s crimes, and if Matt’s parents try to win justice for their son’s girlfriend, the Andrewses will tie them up in court and bankrupt them. So of course Riley, Matt and Riley’s best female friend, Kim (Sophia Katarina Kraak), hatch a plot to get the goods on Chris themselves. The plan is that Kim will vamp Chris and get the information out of him by pretending to be interested in him sexually (though as it turns out she doesn’t actually have to go to bed with him — a disappointment for me because I was hoping we’d get to see a soft-core porn sequence involving hot Jared Scott, who probably had a lot of straight women and Gay men in the audience, including me, thinking, “Stalk me, honey!”), and though they have to deal with the usual complications beloved of Lifetime writers, including people coming home unexpectedly when they weren’t expected and Chris suddenly getting suspicious of Kim’s real motives in cruising him even though he’s also drawn as the sort of egomaniac who thinks no (straight) woman can resist him, eventually they get the goods on him and figure out why he’s so interested in destroying Riley.

It seems that way back when he was still at St. Joseph’s he did to a classmate named Lori Nelson the same thing he did to Riley — he drugged her, raped her, took pictures of them having sex and splashed them all over social media — with the result that Lori was ostracized at school, denounced as a slut (and worse things), and ultimately she committed suicide. Chris didn’t suffer any legal consequences but was quietly told to leave St. Joseph’s, and though he got into a school considered almost as prestigious it was still a public school and Chris freaked out that having a public school on his résumé would hurt his 1-percent cred and might keep him out of the very best colleges to which he felt entitled. So he freaked out and determined to get his revenge on the person he blamed for his predicament — Riley’s mother Jaclyn (ya remember Riley’s mother Jaclyn?), who had given Lori Nelson the rape exam the night Chris drugged and assaulted her, who had reported this to the police and thereby, in Chris’s egomaniac view, ruined his life. Riley, Matt and Kim learned all this from a police file on the case they obtained from Lori Nelson’s mother (played with an indelibly ineffable sense of overwhelmed sadness by an actress herself named Tracy Nelson!), and in the final scene Riley goes to her mom’s house — alone, having (like a typical Lifetime idiot heroine) refused Matt’s offer to accompany and help protect her — and Chris shows up intent on murdering both of them. Only, just as Chris is about to slash Jaclyn’s throat with a straight razor (an oddly outré choice of weapon for a film both made and set in 2018), Riley pulls out a gun that’s been previously established as being in the house and drills Chris with five perfectly spaced shots to the chest — maybe we were supposed to assume she was on the target-shooting team at Kennedy and that’s how she learned to be so good with a gun. At the end the other sympathetic characters assure Riley that she did the right thing because Chris was a monster and if he had been allowed to live he would have just kept doing this over and over — and I couldn’t help but joke, “And 50 years from now he could have been elected President!”

The Wrong Friend is typical Lifetime, but it’s decently acted by the principals and well staged for suspense and thrills by director David DeCoteau. A number of the reviewers have come down hard on Jared Scott in the bad-boy lead — one even wrote, “The kid playing the psycho could not act to save his life” — but what others read as incompetence I saw as powerful understatement. Charming and a little bit gawky, Scott makes Chris credible as a character, showing both the superficial appeal and the underlying spoiled-brat evil, and while writer Rockoff (almost as appropriate a name for a Lifetime scribe as Kirby Dick and Barbara Kymlicka!) could have made more of the class-conflict notions in his story (particularly Chris’s ability to screw over other people with impunity because he’s confident that his parents, with their social position as well as their limitless funds, will be able to bail him out of whatever trouble he might get into), Scott does project the spoiled 1-percenter aspect of his character. The only problem is that ever since Alfred Hitchcock cast Anthony Perkins, who’d previously been an innocent boy-next-door type, as the crazy killer in Psycho, the calm, understated type of movie psycho performance has become almost as much a cliché as the older type in which actors played psychos by rolling their eyes and bellowing their lines at such intense volume you wondered why they felt they needed to shout. We’ve seen an awful lot of them on Lifetime — and many of them have been women psychos who added perkiness to the mix — and it doesn’t help that Jared Scott has clearly learned how to play an alienated teenager from the same source the last three generations of young actors have: from watching James Dean’s movies. I quite liked The Wrong Friend even though I’ll admit it didn’t have either Christine Conradt’s humanism or the stark portrayal of class conflict and wealthy privilege of Restless Virgins!