by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved
The Lifetime film I watched this morning was Abandoned, the next-to-last production of the late actress Brittany Murphy — who I must admit was totally off my radar screen until she croaked — and it apparently had a theatrical release in 2010 (she died on December 20, 2009 at age 32 of pneumonia, anemia and drug intoxication, and her husband Simon Monjack died just five months later, also shockingly young — 39) since the imdb.com page for it listed a motion picture association rating. It’s actually quite a good movie, a nail-biting suspense tale about Mary Walsh (Brittany Murphy), an executive with the Empyrean International Bank who’s had far better luck with her career than with men. As the film begins she’s been dating Kevin Peterson (Dean Cain) for four months even though she has only the dimmest idea of his family background or what he does for a living (he’s told her he’s in insurance and works out of his home).
He’s wearing a leg brace because he’s been injured while hiking, and as the film begins … well, as the film really begins Our Heroine is in mortal peril in a parking garage, with a car filled with people with guns chasing her with murderous intent, but then there’s a title that reads, “Nine hours earlier … ,” and we find that nine hours earlier she was driving Kevin to a hospital to have his leg operated on by an orthopedic surgeon. He’s checked in by a nurse who introduces herself as Amanda (America Young) and tells Mary that the operation will take about an hour. Mary is sent off to wait in the lobby, and while there she meets a quirky old man named Cooper (Tim Thomerson) who says he’s there to visit his wife, who’s suffering from breast cancer and scheduled to receive chemo.
Mary waits for two hours and gets worried because she hasn’t been called yet — so she starts approaching the hospital personnel and finds that there’s no record of a Kevin Peterson being admitted for surgery (or any other reason); that no nurse named Amanda is on staff; that the hospital was about to close down for remodeling and therefore there weren’t scheduling any operations; and the doctor who was supposed to perform the surgery, Dr. Harding, is real enough but is out on vacation. She makes herself obnoxious chasing various wild geese through the hospital corridors, and at one point she drops a bottle containing a powerful anti-depressant drug she’s been prescribed, which leads the hospital’s chief of staff, Victoria Markham (Mimi Rogers), to think she’s crazy and refer her to the head psychiatrist, Dr. Markus Bensley (Peter Bogdanovich in an appropriately smarmy cameo).
A police detective, Franklin (Jay Pickett), who was at the hospital for his own issues (he’d been reassigned to a desk job after his partner was killed in the line of duty and he was told to avoid stress, and in all of this his wife decided to leave him because she could no longer stand being married to a cop), gets involved and at first he’s convinced that Mary is crazy — but he changes his mind when he looks through the book she brought along to read, a novel called Abandoned which is inscribed to Mary from Kevin. Meanwhile, Mary gets a cell-phone call from Kevin, who tells her he’s been kidnapped — and then she’s contacted by Cooper, who says he’s holding Kevin and will kill him unless Mary electronically embezzles $10 million from her bank and wires it to his account in the Cayman Islands. (He gets a lot of self-justifying dialogue about how Mary’s employers got $2 billion in bailout money from the government and paid themselves enormous bonuses with it while their customers lost money and got foreclosed on.)
Mary tries to comply but can’t get a wi-fi signal on her laptop, so she has to find one of the hospital’s computers that is already logged on (since she doesn’t know the hospital’s passwords and isn’t a good enough hacker to get on without them) — which she does in Victoria Markham’s office — only when she shows up to receive Kevin in exchange for the money, she finds (in a reversal that won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s seen more than two movies in his or her life) that Kevin is part of the plot; that Amanda, the “nurse” that checked him in, is also part of the plot as well as his real girlfriend; and that another member of the gang, John Holloway (Scott Anthony Leek), has been impersonating a hospital security person and is supposed to kill Mary as soon as the wire transfer goes through — which it hasn’t yet because she needs to send e-mail confirmation via her smart phone, and Holloway bungles the job and gets killed instead, giving Mary time to reverse the transfer and giving the gang new impetus to let her live.
The final confrontation takes place on a catwalk in the older part of the hospital building — one that wasn’t in use because that was the part they were going to remodel — and Mary shoots Cooper with Holloway’s gun (she failed to pick it up the first time she knocked him out but did get it the second time) and is then confronted by Kevin, who gives him a sex-reversed version of the usual last-ditch appeal by the femme fatale to the guy she’s screwed over, pleading with her to go off with him so they can double-cross the rest of the gang and keep the $10 million for themselves — only she refuses and Kevin tries to kill Mary but she’s saved in the nick of time when detective Franklin returns with a police back-up squad and shoots him dead. Later it turns out that the novel Abandoned was the key to the whole plot because its final chapter described a crime similar to the one Kevin and his associates actually tried to pull, including finding a woman in a major position with a bank who had a history of depression and could be seduced (in more ways than one) into embezzling to ransom a supposed “boyfriend” from a fake “kidnapping.”
Abandoned isn’t a great movie but it’s quite a good one; director Michael Feifer stages much of it without dialogue, composer Andres Boulton contributes a tension-building electronic score, the script by Peter Sullivan (based on a story by him and Jeffrey Schenck) is tight-knit and the reversals are at least within the realm of cinematic possibility (if not necessarily real-life credibility) — and while it’s grimly ironic, to say the least, that the central character who evades a life-threatening situation is being played by an actress who didn’t live long enough to see the film completed and in release (the final credits have a dedication to her memory), Brittany Murphy turns in an excellent performance and she’s well matched by Dean Cain (who’s considerably hotter than most of the guys Lifetime itself casts in these roles) and especially by Jay Pickett as the cop (indeed, I was rather hoping he and the heroine would get together at the end à la Hitchcock’s Blackmail and Shadow of a Doubt, but instead Sullivan drops a line of dialogue indicating that he’s going to reconcile with his wife — darn!) and Tim Thomerson, who does a marvelous transition from avuncular charmer to criminal mastermind.