Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Mommy (dir by David DeCoteau)


If there’s anything that I’ve learned from my long history of watching Lifetime films, it’s that having a real job just isn’t worth the trouble.

Just consider what Melanie (Jessica Morris) goes through in The Wrong Mommy.  She’s got a real job.  She also has a handsome husband (Jason-Shane Scott), an adorable daughter (Jillian Spitz), and a mother (Dee Wallace) who enjoys going on exotic cruises.  Melanie also has a really nice and really big house, the type of house that would probably be the “slightly more than you’re willing to pay” house on an episode of House Hunters.  But can she enjoy it?  No, of course not!  It’s all because she’s got a real job.  She can’t pick up her daughter after school.  She can’t go out at night.  She can’t do anything because she’s got a real job.

However, during the first few minutes of The Wrong Mommy, Melanie gets some good news!  She’s been promoted!  She’s now a senior executive or whatever it is that you get promoted to when you’ve got a real job.  Along with having real responsibilities, Melanie is also about to get a real assistant!

Here’s another thing that I’ve learned from my long history of watching Lifetime films, as well as from my own past experience in the administrative professional field.  Be very careful about hiring an assistant.  Especially if she only has one obscure reference on her resume.  Even if she’s willing to babysit your daughter for you, be careful.  Don’t look the other way when she flirts with your husband.  And, for the love of everything holy in this world, don’t tell her the one secret that could lead to you losing a big account!

Unfortunately, Melanie doesn’t exercise caution about any of that and, as a result, she ends up hiring Phoebe (Ashlynn Yennie).  Even before Phoebe shows up for her interview, we’ve already seen her following Melanie around town and spying on her.  In fact, even before the opening credits conclude, Phoebe is breaking into Melanie’s house and planting spy cameras.  We know better than to trust Phoebe and soon, Melanie discovers that she made a mistake hiring her.  However, it may be too late to do anything about it….

Now, to the film’s credit, Phoebe isn’t just some random psycho bitch trying to ruin someone else’s life.  It turns out that she has a backstory, one that actually does involve Melanie.  I won’t spoil anything by revealing it but it’s a pretty good backstory.  Ashley Yennie appears to be having a lot of fun in the role of Phoebe.  If you’re going to be in a Lifetime movie, you definitely want to play the villain.  They usually get all the good lines and get to wear all the pretty clothes.

Like most of Lifetime’s “Wrong” films, this one was directed by David DeCoteau, who know exactly the right tone to take for a film like this.  He plays up the melodrama while never allowing the film to take itself too seriously.  (Just check out the scene where Dee Wallace shouts out the film’s title.)  As with all the “Wrong” films, Vivica A. Fox shows up as a no-nonsense authority figure.  (This time, she plays Melanie’s boss.)  The great Eric Roberts also shows up for a few minutes, playing a sleazy client.  Roberts doesn’t have much screen time but, as usual, he makes memorable use of what he gets.

The Wrong Mommy is an enjoyably silly film.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you.

Lifetime Film Review: Trapped Model (dir by Damian Romay)


If there’s anything that can definitely be said about Lifetime films, it’s that they always feature the nicest houses.

Take Trapped Model, for instance.  Now, this film is also known as The Model Murders and A Model Kidnapping so, right away, you know that it’s not going to be a happy story about how wonderful it is to be a model.  No, this is a film about a young woman named Grace (Lucy Loken) who runs away to Florida so that she can have her picture taken by a seemingly reputable photographer named Hunter (Wes McGee).  Hunter, of course, is charming at first but he soon turns out to be a total sleaze who, with the help of his assistant Nicole (Katherine Diaz), takes Grace prisoner and forces her to strip on camera for a worldwide audience of pervs and incels.  That’s a nightmarish story, one that’s made all the more disturbing by the fact that it’s very plausible.  I mean, I’ve met more than a few real-life Hunters and I saw pieces of all of them in Wes McGee’s unnerving and menacing performance.  And yet, as I watched the movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about how nice Hunter’s house was.

I mean, seriously!  This place was huge and it had a pool and, even more importantly, it was totally spotless.  Remember that mansion where Al Pacino kept his mountain of cocaine in Scarface?  That place had nothing on Hunter’s home.  In the film, Hunter used his mansion to give himself legitimacy.  Grace was lured into trusting Hunter by all of his visible signs of success.  Now, of course, those of us in the audience knew better.  We’ve seen enough Lifetime films to know better than to trust anyone who is as superficially charming as Hunter.  But still, even though we were all like, “Don’t trust him!  Don’t agree to stay overnight!  Stay out the guest house!,” it was impossible not to appreciate that house.

“Wow,” I exclaimed as I watched the film, “Maybe it’d be worth getting kidnapped just to live in that house!”

“That’s not funny, Lisa Marie!” came the replies and technically, I guess it wasn’t.  Still….

The other thought that I had as I watched Trapped Model was that it was unfortunate that Grace wasn’t Liam Neeson’s daughter.  I mean, we all know that no one gets away with kidnapping a member of the Neeson family.  Unfortunately, Grace has to depend on the investigative skills of her mother (Kiki Harris) and her boyfriend (Seth Goodfellow), neither one of whom has been trained to thwart kidnappings.  Instead, they have to go to the police, who turn out to be fairly ineffectual.  Usually, I kind of roll my eyes at the incompetent cops who populate Lifetime films but, in this case, the film made good use of the trope.  As soon as Grace is kidnapped, it’s obvious that she’s going to have to be the one to figure out a way to escape her captors.  You find yourself cheering her every success and dreading her every setback.

For the most part, Trapped Model was just as impressive as Hunter’s house.  This was a well-executed melodrama, featuring brisk direction from Damian Romay and excellent performances from Lucy Loken, Wes McGee, and Katherine Diaz.  In the end, Trapped Model is one of the better Lifetime films that I’ve seen this year and I’m not just saying that because of the house.

Lifetime Film Review: Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (dir by Jeff Hare)


Look out everyone!  Dr. Beck is back!

Played by Eric Roberts, Albert Beck is the anti-hero at the center of the Stalked By My Doctor films.  He was once a brilliant heart surgeon, up until he grew obsessed with one of his patients and was forced to go on the run.  That happened in 2015’s Stalked By My DoctorStalked By My Doctor was so successful that it has inspired, to date, three sequels.  Each film features the same basic plot, in which Dr. Beck assumes another doctor’s identity, becomes obsessed with another patient, and ends up murdering the usual collection of dumb boyfriends and nosy coworkers.  Ever since the third film, Dr. Beck has spent a lot of time talking to himself, which the franchise usually represents literally by having two Doctor Becks appear on screen at the same time and arguing with each other.  The real Dr. Beck usually wears a suit and a lab coat and is prone to thinking that he’s finally going to find true love.  The imaginary Dr. Beck wears a Hawaiian shirt and is always holding a tropical drink.  Of course, this means that you get twice as much Eric Roberts as advertised!

And indeed, Eric Roberts is the main reason why this franchise has thrived.  Lifetime is full of movies about stalkers but only the Stalked By My Doctor franchise features Eric Roberts at his most demented.  (We make a lot of jokes about Eric Roberts on this site but the truth of the matter is that he’s actually a very good actor and he’s given some very good performances over the course of his long career.  If nothing else, he’s a more consistently interesting actor than his better-known sister, Julia.)  In the role of Dr. Beck, Eric Roberts never makes any attempt to be the least bit subtle and that’s exactly why the films work.  If you take every creepy doctor and touchy-feely male friend that you’ve ever had to deal with and combined them into one ubercreep, the end result would be Dr. Beck.  He’s arrogant.  He’s condescending.  He’s got the creepiest smile in the world.  And yet, despite his personal issues, he’s also a lot of fun to watch.  Eric Roberts always seems like he’s having fun in these movies as he discovers new ways to communicate the fact that Dr. Beck is an absolute creep.

There are two things that I especially like about the Stalked By My Doctor films:

Number one, they take place in a world where someone who looks and sounds like Eric Roberts can somehow evade detection despite making absolutely no effort to disguise his appearance or change his voice.  For instance, in the franchise’s fourth film, Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (which aired on Lifetime this weekend), we find Dr. Beck working as a server at a roadside diner.  As in the previous films, he’s still frequently distracted by wild fantasies and elaborate schemes for revenge.  But what’s hilarious is that Dr. Beck is apparently one of the most wanted men in America but none of the customers at this seemingly busy diner ever says, “Hey, that mysterious server looks just like that murderer who was all over the news!”  To the film’s credit, it also makes it clear that the film itself is in on the joke.  We’re supposed to enjoy the rather odd sight of Eric Roberts pouring coffee and awkwardly flirting with his customers.  We’re not supposed to worry about whether or not it’s a plausible development.

Number two, I love the fact that there’s literally nothing that Dr. Beck cannot do.  Seriously, Dr. Beck has got to be the most brilliant medical mind of all time because there’s not a single field of medical care that he cannot conquer.  When we first met Dr. Beck, he was a heart surgeon.  In the fourth film, he steals the identity of a specialist in sexsomnia.  He manages to do all of this without missing a beat or giving himself away.  All you have to do is give Dr. Beck a lab coat and he can basically do anything!

This time around, Dr. Beck is obsessed with the niece (Angeline Appel) of one of his patients, Michelle (Emilie Ullerup).  Once again, Dr. Beck is breaking hearts and ending lives while, at the same time, arguing with his Hawaiian shirt-wearing alter ego.  And again, there’s murder, love, and melodrama.  It wouldn’t be a Stalked By My Doctor movie, otherwise!

And it’s all lot of fun.  Just when you think that the franchise has run out of gas, Eric Roberts adds another layer of quirkiness to his performance and you find yourself enthralled again.  As I hinted at above, the best thing about the Stalked By My Doctor films is that they know that they’re ludicrous and they make no apologies for being what they are.  Much like A Deadly Adoption, the Stalked By My Doctor films poke fun at the Lifetime format while still showing enough respect for the audience that no one watching is going to feel as if they’re being condescended to.  The film is totally over-the-top and silly but it’s Eric Roberts so who cares?  What else would you expect?  Are you not amused?

When watching Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Revenge, keep an eye out for Felissa Rose.  Rose plays one of Beck’s colleagues.  Horror fans know her best from her starring role in the original Sleepaway Camp.  Her casting is one of those touches that sets Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Revenge apart from other Lifetime films.

In its way, the Stalked By My Doctor franchise has the potential to be Lifetime’s equivalent of the Sharknado films.  Personally, I can’t wait to see where Dr. Beck turns up next!

 

Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Boy Next Door (dir by David DeCoteau)


“Don’t trust your neighbor,” proclaims the tagline for The Wrong Boy Next Door and that’s certainly true when it comes to Lifetime films.

Seriously, in a Lifetime movie, your neighbor is either going to be a seemingly nice woman who is going to end up trying to steal your baby or else a really hot guy who never wears a shirt and who is secretly plotting to kill you and your friends.  In the case of The Wrong Boy Next Door, we get the hot psycho who is always wandering outside without a shirt on.  John (Travis Burns) may be intriguing but he’s also dangerous.  It might be fun to watch him while he’s out in his garage but if he starts watching you back …. look out!

The Wrong Boy Next Door really does capture an essential truth.  Bad boys are sexy and the more dangerous the better.  While watching the film, it was easy for me to yell that Katie (played by Calli Taylor) was making a huge mistake by trusting John but, honestly, I probably would have made the same mistake back when I was in high school.  First off, there’s the fantasy of being the one girl who can reform a bad boy.  Secondly, there’s the fact that, when you’re a teenager, you do stupid things because you think you’re smarter than you actually are.  I mean, really, that’s the whole appeal of being young.  It’s the only time in your life that you can get away with being totally dumb and irresponsible.  That’s why there are people in their 30s who are already feeling nostalgic for high school.

Having watched the film, I can say that Katie is one of the greatest Lifetime heroines ever.  From the minute the movie starts, she’s getting in trouble.  First, she gets caught vaping at school and this leads to her being suspended for a few days.  It’s during that time that she first spots John walking around outside.  She invites him inside and, two minutes later, they’re kissing.  Then, when Katie returns to school, one of her teachers spots her checking her phone in class.  When the teacher demands the phone, Katie throws it at her and literally knocks the teacher to the ground!  (The school’s principal later says that the teacher looks like she got hit in the face by a baseball.)  Go Katie!

So now, Katie’s under house arrest!  That means that she has to wear one of those ankle bracelets that beeps if you leave your front yard.  The detective in charge of Katie’s house arrest is played by none other than Vivica A. Fox so you know that if Katie breaks the rules, she’s going to be in a lot of trouble.  Unfortunately, being stuck in her house is kind of a problem because Katie suspects that John might be as good a guy as he’s pretending to be.  But how can she investigate without going outside!?

The Wrong Boy Next Door was a hell of a lot of fun, largely due to Calli Taylor’s energetic and sympathetic performance as Katie and Travis Burns’s menacing turn as John.  As is typical of Lifetime’s “Wrong” films, director David DeCoteau kept the action moving at a brisk pace and Vivica A. Fox brought her usual flair to yet another no-nonsense authority figure.  All in all, The Wrong Boy Next Door is one for which to keep an eye out.

Lifetime Film Review: Hometown Killer (dir by Jeff Hare)


Penny (Ashley Gallegos) is your worst nightmare.

She’s a former high school outcast who can now legally carry a gun.  How much of an outcast was Penny?  She was such an outcast that she was humiliated at a school dance by a bunch of popular kids who tied her down to a chair, made her up to look like a pig, and then displayed her in front of the entire class.  Seriously, how do teenage bullies come up with stuff?  I mean, I was never one to take part in bullying but, even if I was, my ADD would make it impossible for me to pull off most of the elaborate schemes that always seem to take place in movies like this.

Anyway, Penny was traumatized by the whole incident but she still managed to graduate and eventually become a cop.  That’s right.  Penny is upholding the law and she’s got an entire department to back her up in case she happens to shoot anyone and …. well, can you see why this might be a problem for her former high school classmates?

One night, Penny is called out to investigate a home invasion.  After Penny shoots the home invader dead, she meets with the home’s owner and it turns out to be a former classmate, Tara (Kaitlyn Black)!  Tara, who seems to have no memory of Penny’s life being destroyed in high school, is soon hanging out with her old classmate.  She invites her to a party.  She and Penny go out to the desert for target practice.  The whole time, of course, Penny keeps imagining that she’s surrounded by the taunting laughter of her former classmates.  Penny’s going to get her revenge, even if it means coming up with a scheme that’s even more ludicrously elaborate as the one that embittered her in the first place.

Hometown Killer is a classic Lifetime film, one that full embraces every melodramatic possibility of its storyline.  Penny may be a dishonest murderer but you still feel sorry for her because of what she went through in high school.  This is one of those films that makes you think, “Y’know, she probably she shouldn’t be doing this but maybe she should.”  Director Jeff Hare adds enough little quirky touches to distinguish Hometown Killer from other, similar films.  I especially liked the way the he took us in and out of Penny’s mind, always keeping us off-balance as to whether or not we were seeing what was really happening or if we were instead seeing what Penny thought was reality.  It kept the audience off-balance and, as a result, Hometown Killer generated a lot more suspense than the average Lifetime film.

The success of a film like this pretty much hinges on the actress playing the killer and Ashley Gallegos did a great job of making Penny both sympathetic and frightening.  Perhaps her greatest moment in the film is when she simply watches the chaos that she’s created and allows herself a slightly satisfied smirk.  It’s a small moment but it tells us everything that we need to know about what’s going on in her head.  Also impressive was Kelly Marcus, who was wonderfully obnoxious as the prototypical high school bully who never adjusted to life in the real world.

Hometown Killer aired on Lifetime and, Lifetime being Lifetime, it will undoubtedly air again.  Keep an eye out for it!

Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Stepmother (dir by David DeCoteau)


“I hear that Maddie is one bad mother….”

“Shut your mouth!”

“But I’m talking about Maddie.”

“Then we can dig it!”

Actually, Maddie (Cindy Busby) is not a mother, though she would like to be.  She not even a stepmother, despite what the title says.  Instead, she’s just dating the recently widowed Michael (Corin Nemec).  If she does end up marrying Michael, Maddie will become a stepmother — perhaps even a WRONG stepmother — to his two daughters, Lilly (Calli Taylor) and Nicole (McKinley Blehm).

It doesn’t take Lilly long to realize that there’s something off about Maddie.  For one thing, she catches Maddie trying to check her social media.  Then she overhears Maddie claiming to be her mother.  And finally, Maddie changes up Lilly’s college admission essay.  See, Lilly wrote about how much her late mother influenced her.  Maddie, however, changes it into an essay about how much Lilly loves her future stepmother.

Yes, Maddie has some issues.  As we discover at the start of the film, she has a history of stalking people.  About halfway through the film, she murders two people.  Whenever you’re watching a film on Lifetime, you know someone’s going to get murdered at exactly halfway through the film.  You can set the time by it.

As with all of Lifetime’s “Wrong” films, Vivica A. Fox has a small role.  In this one, she plays Ms. Price, the high school guidance counselor who is extremely unimpressed by Lilly’s college admissions essay.  When Ms. Price confronts Lilly about how unimpressive her essay was, Fox delivers the lines with such subtle fury and annoyance that it brought back a lot of high school memories for me.  As played by Fox, Ms. Price is the type of high school counselor who scares you to death but who also changes your life for the better.  If Ms. Price had been my counselor, I definitely wouldn’t have spent so much time skipping class and shoplifting makeup at Target.

Anyway, the main complaint that you always hear about Lifetime films is that they’re all exactly the same but that’s actually their appeal.  They’re fun to watch, precisely because 1) they’re predictable and 2) the viewer is always going to be smarter than the people in the movie.  I mean, we can take one look at Maddie and say, “Okay, don’t let her in the house.”  However, Michael’s not that smart and, if he was, we really wouldn’t have a movie.  Sometimes, you just have to stop crying about plausibility and enjoy what you’re watching.

The Wrong Stepmother gets a big boost from the casting of the always likable Corin Nemec as Michael.  I mean, it’s pretty much impossible not to root for a character played by Corin Nemec, even if that character is way too trusting of someone who he met on a dating app.  Meanwhile, Cindy Busby is properly psychotic as Maddie and, of course, you’ve got Vivica A. Fox changing lives as Ms. Price.

The Wrong Stepmother is an entertaining Lifetime film.  Watch it with your snarkiest friends.

Lifetime Film Review: My Stepfather’s Secret (dir by Michael Feifer)


Bailey (Paris Smith) comes home from college and discovers that things have changed since she left.

For instance, her mother, Tina (Vanessa Marcil), is now a vegetarian!  Also, Tina’s suddenly really into exercise and yoga and stuff.  In fact, Tina seems to be happier than she’s ever been and that’s a good thing since Tina previously had some issues with alcohol.  Of course, that’s understandable when you consider that her husband was mysteriously murdered a few years ago.

So, why is Tina so happy now?

Meet Hugo (Eddie McClintock)!  Hugo is some sort of weird New Age massage therapist person and it turns out that he and Tina are going to get married!  They’ve known each other for like two weeks and they’re totally in love!  Bailey is like, “Mom, don’t you think things are moving too fast!?” and the previously cautious Tina is all like, “I love him!”

However, Bailey is convinced that her new stepfather has some secrets and it turns out that she’s right!  But what exactly are those secrets?  Why has he been using Bailey’s computer without permission?  Why is he using her webcam to spy on her?  Why is he constantly getting strange calls and why does he often seem to be distracted by something that only he sees?  Even more importantly, why is Tina acting so weird?  Whenever Bailey tells her about Hugo’s strange behavior, Tina just shrugs it off.  Has Tina been drugged or brainwashed and what, if anything, does that have to do with Hugo’s secrets!?

I have to admit that, as I was watching this movie, I kind of related to Bailey.  After my parents got divorced, I went out of my way to chase off any new guy who thought he was going to be my stepfather.  It wasn’t that I wanted my parents to get back together because I knew they were better off separated.  Instead, it was more that I resented the idea of some stranger suddenly showing up and expecting me to care about what he had to say or anything else.  For a few years, “You’re not my father” was my mantra.  You’re going to be stepfather?  No way!  Of course, for the most part, I was just being an immature brat and, eventually, both my mom and my sisters told me to grow up and knock it off.  Unlike me, Bailey has good reason to be suspicious of her stepfather.

In fact, you could argue that she has a few too many reasons to be suspicious of Hugo.  This film doesn’t leave much doubt that Hugo is a bad guy.  From the minute that he first appears, he might as well be carrying a sign that reads, “I’m Evil, pass it on.”  Amazingly, no matter how obviously evil Hugo may be, Bailey seems to be the only person capable of noticing.  In fact, everyone else seems to be so oblivious to Hugo’s evil that I suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  With the exception of Bailey, everyone in the film is so incredibly dense that it’s hard not to believe that we’re not really meant to take any of them that seriously.

Anyway, we do eventually learn Hugo’s secret and it’s all pretty silly.  Hugo is not only evil and creepy but he also apparently has a thing about coming up with ludicrously overcomplicated schemes.  Fortunately, the action concludes at a cabin in the woods because it’s a Lifetime film and all true Lifetime films conclude at a cabin in the woods, or at least they should.

Anyway, My Stepfather’s Secret is an almost prototypical Lifetime film, with its untrustworthy male interloper threatening to tear apart an otherwise perfect mother/daughter relationship.  Usually, in these films, it’s the mother who knows best but, in this case, the role are reversed.  Enjoy it while you’re watching it and don’t worry about it afterwards.