Sunday, May 1, 2016

Break-Up Nightmare (The Asylum/LIfetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I stayed in and watched three, count ’em, three movies in a row on the Lifetime channel, all apparently shown under a rubric called “Don’t Mess with Mommy” even though only the first really came under that theme. It was also by far the best of the three they played last night: Break-Up Nightmare, advertised as “new” on the Lifetime Web site (though I think it had already been premiered since it had a review up on when I went to look up the cast and other credit information — and the reviewer liked it considerably less than I did). The principals in this one are mother Barbara Light (Jennifer Dorogi) and her teenage daughter Rachel (Celesta DeAstis) — and kudos are definitely in order to casting director Scotty Mullen for finding two actresses who look enough alike that we can believe them as mother and daughter (though Jennifer Dorogi is hot enough we could even more readily believe her as Celesta DeAstis’ older sister than as her mom!). In the opening scene Rachel is in her bedroom with her boyfriend Troy (the genuinely hot Mark Grossman — we don’t get to see him shirtless, alas, but even covered he’s got great pecs!), and of course, this being a Lifetime movie about a teenage girl, her boyfriend wants to have sex with her but she’s holding him off. She does yield to his entreaties to let him take naked pictures of her, saying that he’ll be going off to college (probably on an athletic scholarship because he doesn’t seem like the brightest bulb in the chandelier) and wants her on his phone to remind himself of her and help him fend off the college girls that will be after him.

Then there’s a title reading “Two Weeks Later” (something of a pleasant surprise since Lifetime movies generally jump months or even years between these prologues and the main body of the films), and two weeks later Troy has dumped Rachel and is looking for female companionship that will be more, shall we say, accommodating. He’s also got his revenge against Rachel by posting her photos to a so-called “revenge porn” site whose proprietor, Ashton Banks (Daron McFarland), has an attitude towards women that makes Donald Trump’s look like a model of sensitivity by comparison. The motto of his site is “Squirt ’Em and Hurt ’Em,” and it’s clear from the text on his home page that if a woman turns down a man for sex, she’s made herself fair game for any sort of humiliation he cares to dish out. Rachel’s pics end up on this site and go viral, and in the little town of “Redford” (pop. 2,340) in which this is taking place, everyone, it seems, recognizes her. She works at a local deli run by Paula (Miriam Korn) and with a co-worker, Ryan (Freeman Lyon), who has a pretty obvious crush on Rachel, only when the pics of her Troy took go up on the revenge-porn site she suddenly has all the creepy male attention she didn’t want. She’s confronted by three horny teenage boys who take a table at the deli and make openly sexual demands when she asks them, as part of her job, what they want to order. Her mom takes her to a movie theatre — where, in what passes for irony in the script by Delondra Williams (quite effectively directed by Mark Quod), they buy tickets to a film called Social Nightmare — only when she takes a seat while mom is at the snack counter buying them popcorn, her blond, 40-something next-door neighbor takes a seat in the row behind her and says he’s always had the hots for her and now that he knows what sort of a girl she really is, they can get together. She tells mom that they have to leave the theatre, and as they go home they’re followed by a green van with no license plates and cornered in the parking lot of a closed industrial park. Mom gets out of the car and starts yelling at the unseen driver — much to Rachel’s horror; Williams’ script flips back and forth over which of the two is the sensible one and which is acting stupidly — and when they go to the police they talk to an African-American woman detective, Officer Sampson (Tanya Lynne Lee), who informs them that since Rachel willingly allowed Troy to take the photos, he didn’t commit a crime and therefore the police can’t protect her since they have nothing to prosecute.

Fortunately Barbara has an attorney friend who agrees to investigate for her, and finds that while there may not be any state or local laws Ashton Banks is breaking, the FBI is investigating him on federal charges and would just love to get a smoking-gun victim. Also in the dramatis personae are Rachel’s dad, Elias Light (Joel Berti), who predictably blames the whole thing on Barbara for spending too much time on her job (she’s an elementary-school teacher), and Ms. Cervantes (Zondra Wilson), the principal at the school where Barbara works (and yet another avuncular African-American authority figure, as if making the police detective a Black woman wasn’t enough to satisfy Lifetime’s urge to have sensible Black characters trying to sort out the idiotic intrigues the whites get themselves into!), who’s at first sympathetic but ultimately puts Barbara on “administrative leave” when the revenge-porn site features a faked but reasonably convincing photo of Barbara in bed with another woman. Indeed, as the film progresses Barbara’s and Rachel’s tormentors consistently up the ante, including getting Troy busted for a fake photo showing him in bed with a pre-pubescent girl and thereby not only costing him his college scholarship but leaving him in prison awaiting trial on a particularly heinous charge. In all of this Rachel seemingly has the moral support of her co-worker Ryan (and though he wasn’t as hunky or drop-dead gorgeous as Mark Grossman, Freeman Lyon looked quite cute to me!) until about an hour into the film, when writer Williams drops us a hint that though Ryan is hoping this will all end with Rachel becoming his girlfriend, her interest in him remains purely platonic. From the moment I heard that one I figured that Ryan would turn out to be the real mastermind behind Rachel’s and Barbara’s humiliation, and in the last 10 minutes I was proved right; it was he, not Troy, who posted Rachel’s nude photos on Ashton Banks’ site and faked the subsequent pictures, and he did it out of a grim determination to have his way with Rachel’s body whether she wanted him to or not.

He kidnaps Rachel and puts her into the unmarked green van, driving her to what appears to be a deserted farm on the outskirts of town, and tying her up inside a barn-like building. (I couldn’t help but recall Groucho Marx’s line in the 1931 Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business: “Imagine, taking a girl to a barn, with all the great shows in town!”) Mom realizes what’s happened, follows the van and calls Sampson, but drives out of cell-phone range before she can give Sampson her exact location, so when she arrives at the barn she has to walk through it to find her daughter, whom she can hear (Ryan bound but didn’t gag her) but can’t see. Ryan overpowers Barbara, too, though Barbara has managed to get hold of a saw blade with which she can saw through the duct tape with which her wrists have been tied together, and in the end she’s able to subdue Ryan long enough to protect her daughter’s virginity before the police come and take him alive (something of a rarity in a Lifetime movie, where the principal villain is usually sleeping the big sleep by the end). Meanwhile, acting on a tip from Barbara’s attorney friend (whose principal investigator, another Black woman, was run down and nearly killed by Ryan in his van), the FBI have busted Ashton Banks, though at the end he’s free enough he sends both Barbara and Rachel a threatening text saying that “this isn’t over.” Break-Up Nightmare ends otherwise happily, with Rachel and Troy reconciled — and Barbara and Rachel’s dad Elias seemingly reconciled as well — and it has a couple of typical flaws for a Lifetime movie, the almost supernatural power of the villain and a “surprise” twist that’s considerably less surprising than the writer thought it was. But the film is also an engagingly tense thriller, well directed by Quod (whose avoidance of flanging and other fancy music-video effects seemed all the more welcome compared to the way the next two films on Lifetime’s program were directed) and convincingly acted all the way around. This isn’t a great movie but it’s a reasonably convincing thriller that may push credibility but doesn’t go whole-hog into crazy or silly plotting, and the ending is a logical summing-up of what’s gone before instead of the nihilistic wrap-ups of Lifetime’s other two films last night!