Monday, January 23, 2012

Drew Peterson: Untouchable (PeaceOut Productions, Silver Screen Entertainment, Lifetime, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Drew Peterson: Untouchable, a 2012 production from a couple of companies called PeaceOut and Silver Screen for release on the Lifetime TV network, based on the true story of Drew Peterson (Rob Lowe), 50-something police officer in the small town of Bolingbrook, Illinois, with a remarkable ability to get 20-something girls to fall head over heels in love with him (he attributes this to the size of his penis, which he calls “Big Daddy,” and given the hotel-room sexcapades that are the biggest thing — pardon the pun — anybody remembers about Lowe’s off-screen life, it seems cruelly appropriate to have cast Lowe in this part!). When the story opens Peterson has already burned through two marriages and the third one is definitely on the rocks; whatever fires of love ever burned between him and Kathleen Savio (Cara Buono) have burned out into embers of hate, enough that Peterson keeps turning up the pressure on her by harassing her at their home while sneaking in his new girlfriend Stacy (Kaley Cuoco) into their home and their bed even when Kathleen and their two sons are there. Kathleen tries to throw him out and get a restraining order against him, but he’s protected by his brethren on the Bolingbrook police force.

Eventually they divorce so he can marry Stacy, though not before Kathleen gives her a talking-to and warns her that Drew is a controlling bastard and a wife-beater as well — warnings that, of course, go in one of Stacy’s ears, through the apparently near-totally empty space in between and out the other. (Drew likes them young, blonde and dumb.) Drew and Stacy marry, and Kathleen’s body is eventually found in the bathtub of her home — at first the death is ruled an accidental drowning — only three years and two more children later, Stacy is as fed up with Drew’s domination, his keeping her on a short leash because of his paranoid conviction that she’s having an affair, and his occasional bursts of domestic violence that she wants out of the marriage … and it’s at that point that Stacy suddenly disappears. Drew tells everyone she’s probably at the beach, hanging out long-term with the guy she was having the affair with, but her sister and many of Drew’s female friends are convinced he murdered her. Stacy is never found, dead or alive, but the furor around the case gets Kathleen’s body exhumed, and a new autopsy reveals that she was deliberately drowned, so the case gets reclassified as a murder and Drew, not surprisingly, is suspect number one.

It’s not much of a story, and the fact that it was filmed while Drew is still awaiting trial for Kathleen’s murder forced writer Teena Booth to pussy-foot (once again, pardon the pun) around some of the dicier parts of the story — it’s pretty obvious from the way she wrote it that she thinks Drew murdered both Kathleen and Stacy, but she can’t come right out and say so without potentially prejudicing the trial, but it has one saving grace: the acting of Rob Lowe. He’s able to tread the fine line required for a character like this, making him despicable enough that we believe he’s capable of murder but also charming enough that we can see what attracted all these women (including, almost unbelievably, the fresh piece of 20-something blonde meat he’s got an affair going with when he’s arrested!) to him in the first place. Instead of raving through the role he goes along with a serene sense of his own invincibility, his belief that since he’s part of law enforcement the “blue wall of silence” will protect him no matter what he does, and whether he’s driving his motorcycle at the wall of media people who surround his home (Larry King and Anderson Cooper both appear in the film as themselves, and the real Peterson gave self-serving TV interviews that are re-created in the film and are some of Lowe’s most effective scenes in the role) or calmly rattling off his charms (physical and otherwise) — down to a tour de force final scene in which, arrested and told to take his clothes off so he can be dressed in the orange jumpsuit that’s become the de rigueur outfit for prisoners these days (striped shirts and pants are so 20th century!), he starts humming David Rose’s song “The Stripper” (badly) and turns it into a routine, shaking “Big Daddy” at the (male) officers who are taking him into custody as if he expects them to be jealous of his natural endowment.

It’s a great performance that deserved a better movie; the director is Mikael Salomon, who made the Lifetime TV-movie about Natalee Holloway (when I commented on that one I noted that the two shared ridiculously pretentious spellings of their first names!) — another movie that was pretty mediocre overall (Teena Booth wrote its script, too) but was salvaged by a brilliant performance by the actor in the leading role (in that case it was Tracy Pollan as Beth Twitty, Natalee’s mother — and though he’s mostly a series-TV director he has done at least one other true-crime movie for Lifetime, Who Is Clark Rockefeller?, about a Rockefeller impersonator who kidnapped his daughter after the girl’s mother learned the truth about him.