Story by Jeffrey Schneck and Peter Sullivan
Written by Adam Rockoff
Directed by David DeCoteau
Premiered July 31, 2020, on Lifetime Movie Network
It’s been a while since I’ve watched a good “Woman In Danger” film, which Lifetime specializes in, but I had to check out this one because of cast. This film features leading roles by Vivica A. Fox, whom I’ve been a fan off ever since the soap opera Generations, Corin Nemec, whom I’ve been a fan of ever since Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, and Krista Allen, whom I actually know in person!
Vivica A. Fox produced this film, as the latest in her “The Wrong ____” film franchise for Lifetime, and she has a supporting role as Ellen Higgins, the Principle at Ocean Hills High. Krista stars as Karen Woodley, a teacher at the school (I didn’t catch if they referenced what subject she teaches). Newcomer Sydney Malakeh makes her professional acting debut in this film, as Karen’s daughter Sarah, a Senior student at the school. Karen’s divorced several years earlier, and her ex is an absent figure in her and Sarah’s lives. Karen has remained single, since then.
Sarah’s recently been having some trouble at school regarding her ex-boyfriend and some new girl he’s dating who taunts her via social media, which in this film consists of “The Circle” (no, not that Circle), a special social network specifically created by the high school, accessible only to students of that high school, similar to how Facebook began as a strictly Harvard-based website. Serving as the stand-in for “social media” in general, the film makes some attempt to draw attention to timely issues like cyber-bullying, and how teenagers in particular need to think about how what they put online can follow them for the rest of their lives.
When Sarah has some trouble with her grades at school, which could affect her chances of getting into a good college, Karen hires Craig Green, a College Counselor (which is a real job), to help her. Before she’s even introduced Sarah to Craig, she and he had already secretly one out on a few dates. Initially, Sarah has no interest in Craig’s help, and is surprised to learn about him and her mother.
We learn early on that Craig has a bad history. He’s in therapy for some incidents regarding his ex that are vaguely referred to and have left him with a police record. It turns out he’s obsessed with finding a wife with children, so he can have an instant family and become a stepfather. So when he starts dating Karen he does whatever he can to ingratiate himself into her and Sarah’s lives, even if it means blackmail threats and violence. And when he proposed to Karen, after only two weeks of dating, she says yes, and now Sarah is really suspicious of Craig, and becomes determined to prove that he’s not the man her mother thinks he is. And, well, if you know these types of movies, you can guess where this is going. More violence, leading to a big dramatic suspenseful climax.
I’m not really knocking the predictability of the film, as I think at this point that’s actually part of their charm. Viewers know what to expect when you watch these types of films. But even with that being sad, the plot suffers from unoriginality, with Corin’s character coming off like a low-rent version of the lead in the classic horror Stepfather trilogy. But Craig and Karen don’t even get married in the film, so Craig is never actually Sarah’s stepfather (“The Wrong Fiance” would have been a more accurate title). Although that’s just as well, as I just never found Karen and Craig believable as a couple. As good actors as Krista and Corin are, their chemistry was lacking, and it just didn’t seem believable that Karen would accept his marriage proposal after 2 weeks.
There are also things like how easy it is for Craig to look up and find some blackmail material on a teacher (Mr. Crane, played by William McNamara), just by doing a google search, which he then uses to force the teacher to change Sarah’s low-grade on an important test. Then that same teacher is easily able to look up Craig’s criminal background and attempt to blackmail. Of course, when he tries to blackmail Craig, he does it by confronting him alone with no witnesses around – I’ll let you guess how that works out for Mr. Crane). It’s that type of plot convenience and illogical behavior that takes me out of the film.
I will say that I was particularly impressed by Sydney Malakeh’s performance, considering that she’s a newbie to the business. She held her own with the older veterans in the cast, and I’d predict that she has a bright future ahead of her.
Other notable cast-members include Derick Breezee as Sarah’s ex, Jason, Vanessa Howard as the “mean girl” Melissa, Alaya Lee Walton as Sarah’s best friend Darby, and Carmel Fisher as Craig’s psychiatrist.
Overall The Wrong Stepfather is an average and mostly forgettable film with an excellent cast who do the best that they can with the material they’re given, but it’s ultimately not enough.
The Wrong Stepfather airs on Lifetime Movie Network, check your local listing for times.
Is that you Vivica? Dang…