by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved
Yesterday morning I’d watched the 2005 Lifetime movie Found, which like A Kidnapping in the Family (see below) is a basically strong story done to death by overripe melodramatics. It’s an impersonation story with overtones of Detour and Josephine Tey’s novel Brat Farrar (which was the subject of an estimable BBC production in the 1980’s but oh how one wishes Alfred Hitchcock could have filmed it with Cary Grant in the leading role[s]!), which starts out in a country bar in Arizona in which a drunken nympho is cruising private detective Vince (Victor Browne, a genuinely hot and sexy guy who’s far more aesthetically appealing than most of Lifetime’s leading men these days), but he only has eyes for the blonde-haired bartender (Tania Saulnier). The next thing we know we’re in Sarasota, Florida, where he’s presenting her as Catherine Drake, long-lost daughter of Charles and Ellen Drake (Greg Evigan — much the worse for wear over the years — and Joanna Cassidy). Catherine disappeared at the age of eight, supposedly abducted by the family’s nanny, and here she is 16 years later — maybe.
For the first 25 minutes or so we’re carefully kept in the dark as to whether she’s the real Catherine or an impostor — the local police, including a detective who’s still on the force and remains embarrassed that he never caught the original kidnappers, suggests running DNA tests and Ellen reminds them that Catherine is adopted (a virtual necessity for writers Jeff Blyth and Thomas C. Chapman to include in their script, since the CSI shows are so popular and enough publicity has been given to the use of DNA evidence in real cases that if the two were biologically related, people would wonder why they weren’t having DNA tests run to settle the issue once and for all — though Ellen is shown as so obsessively concerned with preserving her daughter’s memory it still seems odd that nobody asks if she still has teeth or hair or something of her missing daughter’s from which a DNA comparison could be made) — until a typical Lifetime soft-core porn scene tracks into the bathroom of the hotel room where “Catherine,” whose real name is Julia, and the detective are getting it on in the shower, and after they make it to the bedroom they have a post-coital discussion of how to continue the scam — including a point to be careful about the red birthmark on her back, a temporary duplicate of Catherine’s real one.
We’re told that Ellen freaked out when her daughter went missing and she’s been on anti-depressants and other psychotropic medications ever since; she also totally believes in Julia as Catherine, whereas both her husband Charlie and Ellen’s brother Howard Addison (John Colton) have their doubts. It takes another half-hour or so before we learn that the reason Vince and Julia were able to pass off Julia as Catherine was that they had inside information, and at first we believe it was from Howard — he was involved in an under-the-table construction business and lived in a guest house on the Drakes’ property which conveniently burned down, though a gardener who was unjustly fired by the Drakes gives Vince the information that records still exist in the basement — but later it turns out that the real culprit is Charles, who married a woman with much more money than he had and enough savvy to make sure her fortune was kept away from him lest he lose it all in ill-advised “business” ventures. When Ellen adopted Catherine, she put the bulk of her fortune in a trust fund for her daughter — and kept it there even after Catherine disappeared, just in case she turned up again. It turns out that the real Catherine didn’t disappear and wasn’t kidnapped; Charles murdered her because she was standing between him and his wife’s money, and still unable to access his wife’s fortune 16 years later he concocted the idea of producing a false Catherine, having her sign away her rights to the trust fund, then killing his wife and faking it to look like an accidental overdose on her meds so he would inherit the whole ball of wax.
For the first hour or so Found comes off as a surprisingly strong piece of neo-noir, held together by some intriguing characterizations — Vince is drawn as money-hungry but not entirely unscrupulous, while Julia is shown as being kept in line to fulfill her role in the plot only by her sexual attraction to him (a neat reversal of the femme fatale gimmick that powered many of the classic noirs) — and impressive suspense direction by Rex Piano, but then the writers overload the plot with so many melodramatic complications that the film collapses under their sheer weight, leaving to a bizarrely ambiguous ending in which both the husband and the detective are killed in a final confrontation, after which Ellen and Julia dump the detective’s body at sea and apparently plan to live as mother and daughter for the rest of their lives, with everyone who could expose Julia as an impostor conveniently dead.