Review: ‘Ordinary Angels’ (2024), starring Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Nancy Travis and Tamala Jones

February 20, 2024

by Carla Hay

Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson in “Ordinary Angels” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Lionsgate)

“Ordinary Angels” (2024)

Directed by Jon Gunn

Culture Representation: Taking place in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1993 and 1994, the dramatic film “Ordinary Angels (inspired by real events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An alcoholic hair stylist feels compelled to help a 5-year-old girl, who is dying from a liver disease and whose family can’t afford her medical expenses, which include a liver transplant that’s needed to save her life.

Culture Audience: “Ordinary Angels” will appeal primarily to fans of star Hilary Swank and faith-based movies that over-exaggerate true stories.

Alan Ritchson and Emily Mitchell in “Ordinary Angels” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Lionsgate)

“Ordinary Angels” is supposed to be based on a true story, but it has plot holes and a fluffy fantasy that all you need to erase medical expenses is a woman who can make $435,000 in hospital bills disappear with sweet talking and blueberry muffins as gifts. There is literally a scene where the protagonist convinces a hospital to cancel this debt by asking a hospital administrator in a meeting how it would feel if the administrator had a sick daughter and couldn’t pay her medical bills. That’s just one of many eye-rolling “only in a movie” scenarios that “Ordinary Angels” tries to shove down viewers’ throats and expect people to swallow as the whole truth.

It’s condescending and gross pandering that will only work with people who want to ignore or forget that medical care in places without universal health insurance has disturbing inequalities for people who aren’t in certain demographics. The end of the movie also has a hokey “race against time” during a blizzard that looks like a real event was very exaggerated in the movie for dramatic purposes. And in other parts of the movie, the truth and reality are over-simplified in order to manipulate certain emotions out of viewers.

Directed by Jon Gunn, “Ordinary Angels” was written by Kelly Fremon Craig and Meg Tilly. The movie takes place in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1993 and 1994. (“Ordinary Angels” was actually filmed in Manitoba, Canada.) In other words, this story took place before the existence of the Internet and social media, which are now common ways for people to raise funds for medical expenses. And the story also takes place before the Affordable Care Act existed in the United States, because the family experiencing the child medical crisis in this story did not have health insurance at the time.

The protagonist of “Ordinary Angels” has the disease of alcoholism and is estranged from her young adult son (her only child) because of her alcoholism. However, she is presented in this unrealistic-looking movie as someone who is a crusading angel in all other aspects of her life, where everything conveniently falls into place because she’s able to talk her way into getting what she wants. On her road to redemption, she has chosen a dying girl to be her obsessive “pet project.”

“Ordinary Angels” begins in 1993, by showing a talkative divorcée named Sharon Stevens (played by Hilary Swank) at a bar, doing something that she’s done many times in her life: Get drunk and call attention to herself with her drunken antics. She wakes up with a hangover and finds out that her boss/close friend Rose (played by Tamala Jones) brought her home from the bar the night before, because Sharon was too drunk to get home on her own. Rose owns the hair salon Shear Elegance, where Sharon works as a hair stylist.

Rose sternly lectures Sharon about this drunken blackout that Sharon has had: “This can’t happen again. I’m officially worried.” Shortly after this incident, Rose persuades Sharon to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where Sharon defiantly declares to everyone: “I’m not an alcoholic. I’m just a pissed-off hairdresser with a splitting headache and an annoying friend.”

Swank has done this type of “sassy with grit” character many times before (see most of the movies where she’s had a starring role), so there’s nothing new or surprising about her performance. Just like the other performances in “Ordinary Angels,” it’s serviceable and predictable. “Ordinary Angels” is a faith-based movie, so expect to see a lot of references to God and praying. That’s not what’s offensive about this movie. What’s offensive is how it relentlessly insults viewers’ intelligence about how medical crises can be solved in the real world.

After leaving the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Sharon sees a front-page newspaper story about a 35-year-old mother named Theresa Schmitt (played by Amy Acker, shown in flashbacks), who has died of Wegener’s disease and has a daughter who needs a liver transplant. (The real Theresa Schmitt actually died of the Wegener’s disease in 1992, at the age of 29.) Theresa’s surviving family members include her husband Ed Schmitt (played by Alan Ritchson) and their two daughters: 5-year-old Michelle Schmitt (played by Emily Mitchell) and Ashley Schmitt (played by Skywalker Hughes), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

Both children are cute and adorable, but the movie unrealistically shows them as having no personality flaws. These two siblings also don’t get into any arguments and don’t show any rivalry with each other, which is another example of how phony this movie looks. “Ordinary Angels” completely ignores what can happen when a sick child in the family gets almost all the attention and any other children in the family might start to feel neglected or resentful. In real life, Michelle was 3 years old when she needed a transplant, but the movie made her 5 years old, because a 5-year-old is more capable than a 3-year-old of saying precocious lines of “cute kid” dialogue, as Michelle does in this movie.

Michelle has a rare liver disease called biliary atresia. Ed, who works as an independent-contractor roofer, is overwhelmed with debts of more than $435,000 in medical bills for Michelle and his late wife Theresa. He has these medical bills because he does not have health insurance for himself or his family. Ed also has the burden of other expenses for himself and his family. After the death of Theresa, Ed’s retired mother Barbara Schmitt (played by Nancy Travis) has moved into the home to help Ed with Michelle and Ashley.

Sharon sees the news story about ailing Michelle and immediately feels like she wants to do something to help the Schmitt family. Sharon starts by going to Theresa’s funeral. And when Ed asks her who she is, Sharon awkwardly explains that she’s a stranger who wants to give her condolences. Ed uncomfortably thanks her and thinks that will be the last he’ll see of Sharon. But there would be no “Ordinary Angels” movie if that was the last time Ed saw Sharon.

After the funeral, Sharon throws herself full-force into raising money for the Schmitt family. She has a fundraising event at the hair salon. She hands out flyers. She tells everyone she knows about the fundraiser. The fundraiser gets more than $3,250. She then goes over to the Schmitt home to deliver the money, which Ed reluctantly takes, because (as the movie repeats often, to irritating levels) Ed doesn’t feel right about taking charity from this lady whom he thinks is kind of a mess.

Barbara is more open to accepting this help. She’s the one who persuades Ed to invite Sharon into the house for dinner when Sharon delivers the fundraising money as a surprise. “Ordinary Angels” makes it clear that Sharon does not have the ulterior motive of trying to have a romantic relationship with physically attractive Ed, who is still deep in grief over the loss of Theresa. However, Sharon inserts herself into the Schmitt family’s life like a volunteer nanny/business manager/life coach, including helping take care of Michelle and Ashley; sorting out Ed’s bills and explaining his finances to him; and giving career tips and pep talks to Ed when he comes up with an idea of how he can make more money as a roofer.

Sharon even accompanies Ed to a sales pitch meeting with a potential employer, and she speaks for Ed like she’s a publicist. At one point in the story, Ed privately comes right out and tells overzealous Sharon that he resents all the help she’s giving because he thinks he should be the one to give the most help to his family. Sharon just smiles and says that Ed can just keep on resenting while she keeps on helping. It’s a very glib answer that glosses over the way that Sharon has fixated so fast on this family.

Yes, Sharon is a do-gooder, but the way she goes about it is kind of stalker-ish. There’s a scene where she calls the hospital where Ed owes money and pretends to be his accountant sister (who doesn’t really exist), just so she can find out how much money Ed owes for his medical bills. (It’s how she finds out he owes $435,000.) It’s a huge invasion of privacy on Sharon’s part, not to mention a HIPAA violation for the hospital to give out this information, but the person on the other line tells Sharon this information, because the movie wants people to believe that “ordinary angel” Sharon is who she is and can be dishonest and violate people’s privacy in order to get what she wants.

Sharon’s overly perky and ultra-helpful persona is a mask for some deep-seated issues in her own personal life. A scene in the movie shows Sharon going to a bar where her musician son Derek (played by Dempsey Bryk) is setting up some musical equipment before his band’s performance. Sharon seems to want to make amends for whatever she did to hurt him, but Derek’s hostile reaction makes it obvious he’s not interested in a reconciliation at that moment. It’s mentioned later in the movie that Sharon’s ex-husband (who is also a musician and not seen in the movie) abandoned Sharon and Derek when Derek was a child.

It’s unclear when Sharon became an alcoholic, but this alcoholism caused her to be a parent who did a lot of emotional damage to Derek. The movie hints at but never goes into details about this abuse, because those details would ruin the movie’s narrative that Sharon is an “ordinary angel” who wants to redeem herself. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that one of the main reasons why Sharon is doing this charity work is out of guilt for her own failures as a parent.

One of the other reasons why Derek is estranged from Sharon is because she won’t admit that she’s an alcoholic and won’t get help for this disease. Derek knows that Sharon has been spending a lot of time helping the Schmitt family. He makes a cutting remark, which is one of the best lines in an otherwise corny movie. Derek says to Sharon about Sharon’s obsession with helping Michelle: “That girl, I feel sorry for her, not because she’s sick but because she’s counting on you for help.”

Sharon is able to overcome big obstacles with some very trite montages of her calling up people or by going to people’s offices, usually with blueberry muffins as gifts. At one point in the movie, viewers might ask themselves, “Does Sharon even work at her salon job anymore?” That question is answered in another part of the movie, when Rose gets upset with Sharon for not showing up to work for weeks, because Sharon wants to spend her time helping the Schmitts. Most people in the real world would get fired over this chronic absenteeism, but “ordinary angel” Sharon guilt-trips Rose into not firing her, because she lectures Rose by saying Rose should be more understanding of Sharon’s charity crusade.

Perhaps one of the worst things about “Ordinary Angels” is how it portrays Ed as a gruff and reluctantly grateful parent who bizarrely refuses to accept any more donations at a time when Michelle needed the money the most for a liver transplant. At this point in the movie, he comes across as a selfish parent who has put his own personal pride over his child’s health. It’s completely heinous, but the movie excuses Ed’s parental attitude problem. It just becomes another plot device for “ordinary angel” Sharon to show Ed that she’s more generous and more capable of solving his family’s problems than he is.

There’s also an unspoken narrative in the movie that the “Ordinary Angels” filmmakers don’t want you to think about: Cute kids with deadly diseases are more likely to get help and donations from strangers, compared to other people with deadly diseases who aren’t cute kids. Does that make the lives of those “other people” less of a priority for people like Sharon Stevens? According to the way Sharon acts in this movie, the answer is “yes.” The harsh reality is that this “ordinary angel” was very selective in whom she wanted to give all of this help to that went above and beyond what most people in her situation would do.

It’s obvious that the filmmakers and stars of the movie made “Ordinary Angels” as an inspirational film with the intention to win awards. (There’s nothing Oscar-worthy about this movie though.) “Ordinary Angels” does a disservice to people who are going through real-life medical crises by warping the truth and exaggerating real circumstances to make this story look like a fairy tale. The only award that “Ordinary Angels” deserves is Most Likely to Give False Hope.

Lionsgate will release “Ordinary Angels” in U.S. cinemas on February 23, 2024.

Review: ‘The Good Mother’ (2023), starring Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor and Hopper Penn

August 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hilary Swank in “The Good Mother” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“The Good Mother” (2023)

Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

Culture Representation: Taking place in Albany, New York, in 2016, the dramatic film “To Good Mother” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An alcoholic journalist, whose adult son has been murdered, reluctantly teams up with her dead son’s pregnant girlfriend to find the killer, while the mother’s other son is a police officer whose department is also investigating the case. 

Culture Audience: “The Good Mother” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Hilary Swank and procedural crime dramas, but this low-grade movie is often shallow and poorly staged.

Olivia Cooke and Hilary Swank in “The Good Mother” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“The Good Mother” had the potential to be a better mystery thriller than it is, but the movie is undone by scenes that are either monotonous or predictable, until it limps along to a very underwhelming ending. The big “plot reveal” is not surprising. “The Good Mother” also has a very generic and forgettable title (there are at least three other feature films with the same title) that is a reflection of this movie’s very generical and forgettable story.

Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (who co-wrote “The Good Mother” screenplay with Madison Harrison), “The Good Mother” was originally titled “Mother’s Milk.” In the movie (which takes place in Albany, New York, in 2016), Mother’s Milk is the nickname of a dangerous mix of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl that is being sold in the Albany area and has been killing several people in the area. The story involves a missing stash of Mother’s Milk, with the stash worth an estimated $50,000.

The beginning of “The Good Mother” shows a man in his 20s jogging on a residential street in the early morning daylight, right before he gets killed. Viewers later find out that this man’s name was Michael “Mike” Bennings (played by “The Good Mother” co-screenwriter Harrison), and he was a drug addict and a drug dealer. It’s also later revealed that Michael was shot in a drive-by shooting by someone driving a white truck. The shooter also has a large tattoo of a caduceus on one of his hands.

Michael’s widowed mother Marissa Bennings (played by Hilary Swank) is an alcoholic journalist who works for the Times Union, a newspaper for the Albany area. Marissa’s husband Frank died in 2013. The movie never bothers to mention how Frank died. On the morning that Marissa finds out that Michael was murdered, she wakes up from a drunken stupor and takes a swig from a liquor bottle near her bed.

Marissa has another son named Toby Bennings (played by Jack Reynor), who is a cop for the Albany Police Department. Toby is Michael’s older brother. Marissa gets the tragic news about Michael’s death when Toby suddenly shows up at Marissa’s job while she’s in a conference-room meeting with her co-workers.

Toby interrupts the meeting to say that he has to tell Marissa something important. What’s odd about this scene is that it isn’t revealed until a few scenes later that Toby is Marissa’s son. He approaches the meeting as if he’s a cop who knows Marissa on a professional level, not as a son telling his mother that her other son has been murdered.

At the graveside part of the funeral service, Marissa is angry to see Michael’s girlfriend Paige (played by Olivia Cooke) has shown up uninvited. Marissa walks over to Paige and punches Paige hard enough for Paige to fall down, just as Paige blurts out, “I’m pregnant.” Then, there’s an abrupt cut to the next scene of Marissa and Paige having coffee together at a diner. It’s one of many awkward transitions in this disappointing movie.

During this conversation, Marissa tells Paige that she’s sorry for punching her and says that she wouldn’t have hit her if she knew that Paige was pregnant. Paige, who is a recovering drug addict, comments to Marissa about Michael: “I didn’t make him a junkie.” Marissa replies bitterly, “You made him a thief.” Paige then says that she loved Michael.

Marissa knew that Michael was a drug addict, but she doesn’t know to what extent he was involved in drug dealing. Paige knows that Michael was involved in drug dealing with Michael’s friend Ducky (played by Hopper Penn), a disheveled drug addict who’s in the movie for only about 15 to 20 minutes. Almost nothing is revealed about Ducky or his personality except that he’s heavily involved in drugs.

Paige has told Marissa that Paige, Michael and Ducky had been planning to move to a farm together shortly before Michael was murdered. However, Paige is now estranged from Ducky, because Paige thinks that Ducky had something to do with Michael being murdered. Toby also believes that Ducky is a person of interest in this murder case. Ducky is a drifter who has become hard to find since Michael’s murder.

Paige is about to find out the hard way that some drug dealers are looking for $50,000 worth of Mother’s Milk that was last known to be in Michael’s possession. Shortly after Paige finds this stash hidden in the house where Michael used to live with her, some of these thugs break into her house at night when Paige is home alone. Paige is able to escape with the stash of Mother’s Milk.

And the first place she goes to is Marissa’s house, because Paige has nowhere else to go. Marissa reluctantly agrees to let Paige stay with her. Eventually, the two women decide that the police aren’t moving fast enough for the investigation into Michael’s murder. And so, Marissa and Paige decide to do their own sleuthing. Paige’s main way of “investigating” consists of posting inquiries on social media. Paige gets a lead in the case much more quickly than the police.

Meanwhile, Toby is not put on the case because his supervisors realistically know that Toby won’t be objective in this investigation. “The Good Mother” has an off-balance tone for Toby’s storyline, by putting a lot of emphasis on the fertility issues of Toby and his wife Gina (played by Dilone), who has been undergoing IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments. At times, Toby seems more concerned about his wife getting pregnant than finding out who murdered his brother.

One of the biggest problems with “The Good Mother” is that there are so many missing parts to the story and so many gaps in logic, the movie quickly falls apart. For example, if these drug dealers are looking for Paige and the missing Mother’s Milk stash, one of the first places they would go to if Paige escaped from her house would be to the home of Michael’s next of kin. They probably wouldn’t go to Toby’s place, because Toby is a cop, but Marissa’s place would be the most logical place where Paige would try to hide.

During at least half of the story, Paige is openly living with Marissa. And yet somehow, the drug dealers looking for her don’t seem to find out this obvious information to find Paige at Marissa’s place. Paige is about seven or eight months pregnant, but she has action scenes that look unrealistic for someone in this late stage of pregnancy. In the scene where Paige escapes from her own house, she jumps out the house’s window and falls down hard on the ground, but she doesn’t even mention later how this fall could have injured her unborn child.

The movie makes it look like Paige is the only one investigating who could possibly know which criminal in the area has a large caduceus tattoo on a hand, even though in real life, police would most likely have that information on file. Another unrealistic thing about “The Good Mother” that’s never explained is why most people in this movie use outdated flip phones. In real life in 2016, most people with mobile phones were using smartphones. It’s as if “The Good Mother” director Joris-Peyrafitte wants to make 2016 look like 2006.

All of the characters in “The Good Mother” are written in superficial and trite ways. In a few private conversations that Marissa has with her understanding boss Jim (played by Norm Lewis), it’s mentioned that Marissa dislikes her co-workers and is an “old school” journalist who doesn’t like technology very much. Her boss and many other people in her life know that she’s an alcoholic, but no one really tries to get her professional help for this health problem. Marissa is also a chainsmoker who tries to quit smoking.

Jim tells Marissa that he thinks Marissa is the newspaper’s most talented writer but she hasn’t written anything in a while. Marissa took a three-month leave of absence after her husband died three years ago. But now, soon after the death of her younger son, Marissa wants to be back on the job. Jim thinks she should take some time off to grieve.

Toby is described as the “good son” and Michael as the “bad son.” But beyond a few quick flashbacks of their childhoods in home videos, there is nothing in “The Good Mother” that gives meaningful backstories about Toby and Michael. The relationship between Michael and Paige is also vague. All viewers know is that Michael and Paige had a drug fueled-relationship, but she stopped using drugs around the time of her pregnancy.

There were several people at Michael’s funeral, but then they are nowhere to be seen during the rest of the movie. Observant viewers will notice that Marissa, Paige, Toby and Gina don’t seem to have any friends or other relatives in their lives. No one checks in on them after the funeral to help them cope with their grief. Who were those people at the funeral? It’s a question that the movie never bothers to answer.

The sleuthing done by Marissa and Paige often looks phony. For someone who’s supposed to be an experienced journalist, Marissa doesn’t do much investigating. Marissa lets Paige do a lot of the real work. Paige has a very blunt and impatient style of interrogation, so there are some scenes of Marissa and Paige clashing with each other because Marissa doesn’t really like Paige’s personality. However, Paige is the one who actually gets results in their investigation.

“The Good Mother” is really just a lazy recycling of every Lifetime TV-movie about mothers seeking justice for their murdered children. But there are Lifetime TV-movies with more depth than “The Good Mother.” The acting talent in “The Good Mother” is better than in most Lifetime TV-movies, but that talent is underused in a very substandard screenplay that doesn’t care to show the main characters in a well-rounded way.

Swank has played many prickly characters before, while Cooke (who is British in real life) tends to portray a lot of working-class American characters who are rough around the edges. There’s nothing new or groundbreaking about their performances. The rest of the characters in “The Good Mother” are as generic as generic can be. No one is doing anything special in this hackneyed movie.

The trailer for “The Good Mother” is somewhat misleading, because Marissa and Paige teaming up for their investigation doesn’t get as much screen time in the actual movie as the trailer might lead viewers to believe. Worst of all, “The Good Mother” hastily throws in a plot development about something that “cures” Marissa’s writer’s block, which then leads her to make a life-changing decision where the aftermath is never shown. If “The Good Mother” had bothered to show the Bennings family as something other than stereotypes, then maybe viewers would care more about what happens to this dysfunctional family.

Vertical released “The Good Mother” in U.S. cinemas on September 1, 2023.

Review: ‘Fatale,’ starring Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy

December 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy in “Fatale” (Photo by Scott Everett White/Lionsgate)


Directed by Deon Taylor 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and briefly in Las Vegas, the dramatic thriller “Fatale” features a racially diverse cast (African Americans and white people, with some Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a married man has a one-night stand with a woman he met at a nightclub in Las Vegas, he’s shocked to find out that the woman is a police officer who now wants to make his life hell.

Culture Audience: “Fatale” will appeal primarily to people who like watching cheap, inferior ripoffs of “Fatal Attraction.”

Hilary Swank and Damaris Lewis in “Fatale” (Photo by Scott Everett White/Lionsgate)

If Tyler Perry wanted to make his own version of 1987’s “Fatal Attraction,” it would look a lot like “Fatale.” Here’s the checklist, just so you know. Is there a married couple having relationship problems in the movie? Check. Did the husband cheat on the wife? Check. Is there a completely ludicrous plot twist in the story? Check.

Deon Taylor actually directed “Fatale,” whose uninspired screenplay was written by David Loughery. And even though “Fatale” has an Oscar winner (Hilary Swank) in its cast, it still doesn’t give any class to this completely tacky thriller. (Taylor and Swank are two of the producers of “Fatale.”) Everything about “Fatale” looks like it was made for a TV network or streaming service instead of for cinemas, where people have to pay money to see this substandard schlock that is “Fatale” in its initial release.

“Fatale” uses the same template of “Fatal Attraction,” except that it adds an element that could have been very intriguing: The psycho mistress is a cop. However, “Fatale” bungles that aspect of the story by having the cop do a lot of things that she would be very unlikely to get away with so easily in real life.

The movie starts out by showing sports agent Derrick Taylor (played by Michael Ealy) driving in his car somewhere in Los Angeles, where he lives. Derrick says in a cringeworthy voiceover narration: “I was always the smart one, the one who played to win. I was damn good at it and was the best. Then I took my eye off of the ball. And just like that, the rules of the game changed. I was no longer playing to win. This was a new game. I’m playing for my life now.”

Translation: “I went to Vegas, cheated on my wife, and now the psycho I slept with won’t leave me alone and might kill me.”

Before viewers get to that predictable point in the story, it’s shown that Derrick and his wife Traci (played by Damaris Lewis) are stuck in a marital rut. Derrick (who’s in his 40s) and Traci (who’s about 15 years younger than Derrick) do not have children, and the spouses have both been working long hours and haven’t been spending a lot of time together. When they do spend time together, Derrick and Traci don’t seem to like each other very much. The romantic passion they once had is in danger of leaving their marriage permanently.

Derrick has a successful sports agency called Vista Entertainment, which he co-founded with his best friend Rafe Grimes (played by Mike Colter), who is thinking about cashing out to become an instant multimillionaire. It’s revealed later in the story that talent agency giant William Morris Endeavor (WME) has been eyeing Vista for a corporate buyout. Rafe thinks that he and Derrick should take the offer if it comes. Derrick doesn’t want to sell the company, and it’s in Derrick and Rafe’s contract with each other that Vista won’t be sold unless they both agree to it.

Rafe is an extroverted bachelor who is dating a woman named Micaela (played by Kali Hawk), and the relationship seems to be going well. While Rafe and Micaela are visiting Derrick and Traci in their home, the two couples have drinks together and make small talk that’s pleasant but superficial. However, Traci is noticeably cold to Derrick.

One day, Derrick and Traci have a tense conversation because she stayed out past midnight the night before, without telling him where she was. During this discussion, Traci says that she was celebrating with some clients and didn’t want to be rude by going home early. Derrick accepts that excuse, but he expresses concern over how much her career seems to be taking time away from their relationship. Traci accuses Derrick of having a double standard because his job is also demanding, but she doesn’t complain about it as much as he complains about the time she spends on her job.

By the time Derrick and Rafe travel to Las Vegas for a bachelor party of a mutual friend, Derrick and Traci’s relationship has reached a stalemate. At the nightclub where the party is held, Derrick confides in Rafe by telling him that he and Traci used to have a “perfect marriage,” but now they feel like “strangers” to each other. Rafe’s response is to tell Derrick to take off his wedding ring and pretend “for the next 24 hours, you’re a single man.”

It doesn’t take long for Derrick to act on that advice. At the nightclub, he spots a woman (played by Swank), who’s around his age and who seems to be having a good time on the dance floor. When she sits down at the bar by herself, Derrick notices the woman rebuff the advances of a man who somewhat aggressively approaches her.

Derrick decides he’ll strike up a conversation with her and see what happens. He leans in close, in a way that makes it obvious that he finds her attractive. The woman, who introduces herself as Val, comments about the man she rejected: “It’s Vegas. It brings out the predators.” Derrick replies, “And the clowns.”

Derrick and Val have some drinks together. At one point, he accidentally spills his drink on Val because someone standing next to Derrick accidentally bumped into him. Derrick makes a sheepish apology. And when he grabs a napkin to give to Val, she suggestively tells him that he can wipe off the drink himself since he made the mess. It’s an excuse for Derrick to gently rub Val near her cleavage area. Judging by the smirk on her face, she enjoys it.

Derrick tells Val that he’s at the nightclub for a bachelor party, but he lies by telling Val that his name is Darren Johnson and that he’s visiting from Seattle. Val says that she’s in Vegas by herself because she has a high-stress job and she goes to Vegas to relieve the stress. “I let myself go insane,” she tells Derrick. “I highly recommend it.”

Val asks Derrick to dance, and they start dancing suggestively on the dance floor. One thing leads to another. They kiss passionately and end up having sex in Val’s hotel room. The next morning is the first sign that something is “off” with Val. While Derrick gets dressed and is ready to leave, he notices that he can’t find his phone. Val tells Derrick that she locked his phone in the room’s safe.

Derrick asks Val to give him his phone because he doesn’t want to miss his plane flight at the airport. Val refuses to give him the combination to the safe until he has sex with her again. “What? You want me to fuck it out of you?” Derrick says to Val about the safe’s combination, as he decides to give her what she wants.

Back in Los Angeles, Derrick thinks that Val is just a one-night stand he’ll never see again. The fling seems to have boosted his sexual confidence, because now he’s acting like a romantic and attentive husband to Traci. She comes home one evening and is surprised to find out that Derrick has made dinner for her. The passion in their marriage is rekindled and things seem to be getting back on track for Derrick and Traci.

But there would be no “Fatale” movie if it had a happy ending right there. One night, while Derrick and Traci are in the middle of having sex in their bedroom, they hear noises inside their house. It’s a masked man who’s an intruder with a gun. When Derrick goes to investigate the noise, a scuffle breaks out between the intruder and Derrick that causes Derrick to be slightly injured. And the intruder escapes without taking anything.

Derrick and Traci call 911. And guess who’s the police detective who shows up at the house to interview the couple and lead the investigation into the crime? It’s Detective Valerie Quinlan, also known as Val, the same woman who had the fling with Derrick in Las Vegas. Derrick and Val are shocked to see each other, but they play it cool and act as if they’ve met for the first time.

However, Val messes with Derrick a little bit when she asks him in front of Traci: “Do I know you?” Traci tells Val that Val probably recognizes Derrick from seeing him on TV. Traci explains that Derrick used to be a college basketball star. He’s also been interviewed on TV because of his work as a sports agent. Val pretends to accept the explanation, but gives Derrick a knowing look, as if to say, “Don’t mess with me or I’ll tell our secret to your wife.”

Because of this investigation, Val finds out that Derrick not only lied to her about his name and the city where he lives, but he also lied about being married. During their tryst in Las Vegas, Val showed signs of being unreasonable and controlling. And now that she found out that Derrick lied to her, she doesn’t take it lightly. She’s going to get revenge.

The rest of “Fatale” is basically what you might expect from a movie that borrows heavily from “Fatal Attraction,” with a mentally unbalanced scorned woman acting out in twisted ways to get revenge on the man she feels did her wrong. It’s shown that Val has a very troubled past as an alcoholic who lost custody of her daughter Haley (played by Oakley Bull), who is now 7 or 8 years old.

A flashback reveals that the incident that caused Val to lose custody of Haley happened about three years ago, when Val was passed out drunk and left her daughter in the room with a loaded gun that had its safety off. Haley picked up the gun and fired it. Luckily, no one was hurt, but Val’s ex-husband Carter Haywood (played by Danny Pino) was upset enough to ask for and get full custody of Haley. Val doesn’t even have visitation rights to Haley.

Carter is now married to another woman (played by Lexa Gluck), and he has a restraining order against Val. You can imagine what Val did to get that restraining order against her. At one point in the story, Val says that she’s been sober for the last three years, with the implication being that the gun incident with Haley motivated Val to get sober. However, when it comes to Val, sobriety doesn’t equal sanity.

Carter is no angel either. In the beginning of the movie, a TV news report shows that he’s a politician in Los Angeles who’s been accused of siphoning funds from the South Central Urban Renewal Project. Let’s see: There’s a possibly corrupt politician who’s got a vengeful ex-wife who’s become more unhinged now that she feels humiliated by a one-night stand who wants nothing to do with her. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s another character who plays a role in the messy drama that ends up happening as the story unfolds. Tyrin Abernathy (played by Tyrin Turner) is Derrick’s cousin who has a shady past. Derrick has been like a mentor to Tyrin. It’s implied that Tyrin has been in trouble with the law, but Derrick has helped Tyrin clean up his act. Tyrin helps Derrick by doing errands for him and looking out for Derrick’s widowed mother Valeria (played by Denise Dowse), who has a close relationship with Derrick.

However, Rafe doesn’t completely trust Tyrin and doesn’t like it when Tyrin comes to the Vista office to visit Derrick. Apparently, Tyrin is too “ghetto” for Rafe, who thinks that Tyrin hanging out at the office isn’t good for the upscale company image that Rafe wants to project. Derrick thinks that Rafe is judging Tyrin too harshly.

“Fatale” piles on some plot twists, some of which are more believable than others. What’s unintentionally hilarious about the movie is that every time something bad happens to Derrick, Val seems to be the only cop in the big city of Los Angeles who just happens to be called to the scene and who investigates. She’s not a high-ranking officer, so in the real world, she wouldn’t have the clout to be involved with so many separate incidents that involve Derrick. And if she did have the clout, it would raise suspicions with her colleagues why she keeps showing up in Derrick’s life on “police business.”

There are double-crosses and other betrayals that become increasingly ridiculous and play out like a very cheesy soap opera. As far as villains go, Swank’s portrayal of Val isn’t terrible, but it’s very generic. Ealy and most of the rest of the cast turn in very mediocre performances, except for Lewis who is downright awful with her wooden acting.

Taylor’s direction of “Fatale” is pedestrian and looks every bit like the low-budget tawdry thriller that it is. (Taylor and Ealy previously worked together on the 2019’s “The Intruder,” a second-rate and predictable thriller in which Ealy plays a married man stalked by a vengeful psycho, played by Dennis Quaid, because of jealousy over home ownership.) “Fatale” really is not much different from a basic cable TV-movie covering the same subject matter, except that “Fatale” has fouler language and sex scenes that are more suggestive than what’s on basic cable. Just like low-quality counterfeit merchandise that ends up falling apart, “Fatale” is a flimsy and forgettable rehash of the formula that made “Fatal Attraction” a classic.

Lionsgate released “Fatale” in U.S. cinemas on December 18, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is January 8, 2021.

Review: ‘The Hunt,’ starring Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank

March 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Betty Gilpin in “The Hunt” (Photo by Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

“The Hunt”

Directed by Craig Zobel

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in a remote part of Croatia, which is disguised as the United States, the satirical horror film “The Hunt” has a predominantly white cast of characters portraying wealthy, middle-class and working-class people.

Culture Clash: Wealthy liberal elitists kidnap, hunt and kill non-wealthy conservatives who believe in conspiracy theories.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like horror movies to have an underlying social message, but “The Hunt” doesn’t live up to its controversial hype and is just another mediocre violent movie with a high body count.

Vince Pisani, Hilary Swank, Teri Wyble and Hannah Alline in “The Hunt” (Photo by Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

The irony about the controversy that postponed the release of the horror flick “The Hunt” is that the movie is a scathing commentary about wanting to permanently silence people, based on assumptions about certain people’s intentions. That’s exactly what happened to “The Hunt,” when numerous people, who never saw the movie, protested by saying that the film glorifies murder and was too dangerous to ever be released.

In response, Universal Pictures, which had originally scheduled “The Hunt” for release in September 2019, pulled the movie from its schedule, before releasing the film six months later. And although some things could have been edited out of the film to make it less controversial—we might never know because the movie wasn’t screened for the media when the September 2019 release was cancelled—what did make it into the film shows that the controversy was much ado about nothing.

The controversy was fueled by concerns that “The Hunt” (which is about a group of people killing another group of people) was not an appropriate movie to release at a time when there were mass shootings in America. But the reality is that most horror movies are usually violent and are about people getting murdered. Violence has been a part of most horror movies, long before there was an increase in gun violence and mass shootings in the real world.

The reason for the protests against “The Hunt” go much deeper than concerns about inspiring copycat killings, because “The Hunt” was perceived as a politically charged film commenting on the divide between liberals and conservatives in America. How these two opposite groups would be portrayed in the movie was perhaps scarier or more offensive to a lot of the protesters than any of the gory violence that “The Hunt” was sure to depict. (And in case anyone was wondering, all the hunters and hunted in the movie are white Americans, so the movie avoids any racist or xenophobic controversy.)

It turns out that it was a mistake to automatically think that “The Hunt” glorifies liberals and demonizes conservatives. The liberals (the hunters) are actually the worst characters in the film (because they’re murderers), while the conservatives (the hunted) don’t really spout any of the narrow-minded, bigoted views in the movie that they allegedly have. The hunted people are too busy trying to survive the violent attacks that they get almost immediately after waking up bound and gagged in a remote field. And one of the hunted ends up being the movie’s main hero who fights back.

Her name is Crystal (played by Betty Gilpin), who’s a car-rental employee, and her spotlight as the movie’s toughest badass in the hunted group doesn’t come until about 25 minutes into the movie. But before then, at the beginning of the movie, viewers see someone’s phone with the text-message conversation that sets in motion this whole idea of “hunting conservatives.”

One of the text messages said that there would be “nothing better than going out to the manor and slaughtering a bunch of deplorables.”  For people who didn’t follow the U.S. presidential race in 2016, the “deplorables” word refers to a controversial September 2016 speech that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton made when she said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of [Donald] Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.”

On a private plane, viewers see some of the people who were part of the text conversation. They’re fussy, snobbish (such as when they treat the flight attendant like she’s an idiot), and try to outdo each other in political correctness when they talk about social issues. Their extreme “wokeness” is obviously a parody.

But there’s some truth in the satire, such as in the way one of the pretentious elitists interrogates the flight attendant over the ingredients of his meal, to give the impression that he’s extremely concerned about the environment. And yet, he doesn’t see the irony that flying on a private jet is most definitely not an environmentally responsible thing to do.

The airplane crew members are oblivious to the sinister nature of the trip until a heavyset guy in a flannel shirt staggers out into the cabin area. The elitists panic and say that he wasn’t supposed to be awake yet, he’s called a “redneck,” and he’s dealt with in a very violent way. The person who’s the mastermind of this trip then shows herself: Her name is Athena (played by Hilary Swank), and it’s clear that she’s a ruthless psycho who can’t wait for the hunt to begin.

The hunted people have been drugged and kidnapped from various parts of the United States. (The druggings and kidnappings are mentioned, but not shown, in the movie.) By the time the hunted people have woken up bound and gagged in a remote open field, it doesn’t take long before they’re being shot at repeatedly by the hunters. The hunted people later find out that they’re not in the United States, as they assumed, but have been taken to a remote part of Croatia, for reasons that are explained in a certain part of the story. (The movie was actually filmed in Louisiana.)

One of the hunted is a nameless young woman (played by Emma Roberts) with big blonde hair and pastel blue athleisure wear, looking like someone’s idea of what a Fox News anchor would be like at home. She manages to free herself from her bindings, and she finds a key to unlock the gags that they’re wearing. Eventually, everyone gets free of their bindings and gags.

And then the hunted find a giant locked crate in the middle of the field, which is pried open to reveal a live pig (which viewers find out later is named Wilbur, because the movie has multiple references to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”) and an arsenal for them to use to defend themselves. The arsenal is a large variety, including samurai swords, Smith & Wesson firearms and fully automatic military-grade weapons. Meanwhile, Crystal is shown briefly by herself making a compass out of a leaf and a straight pin.

The hunted, who are mostly nameless in the movie, includes an options trader (played by Ike Barinholtz), who’s originally from New York’s Staten Island; a podcast host (played by Ethan Suplee); and various people who look like stereotypical “rednecks,” by wearing flannel shirts or outfits that look like they’re about to go fishing and, ironically, hunting.

The hunters are all dressed in luxury designer clothes. They’ve also hired a military-trained firearms expert named Sgt. Dale (played by Steve Mokate), who acts as their consultant for this killing spree. The details about who these hunters are and why they decided to participate in this massacre are revealed later in the story.

“The Hunt” (which was written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, who’ve worked together on the HBO shows “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen”) constantly skewers the elitist “liberal” views of the hunters. In one scene, two of the hunters debate over whether or not they should have included politically conservative people of color in the all-white group of targets because they need to have “diversity.”

In another scene, one of the hunters is wearing a Japanese-style robe, and one of the cohorts makes this remark: “Is that a kimono? That’s cultural appropriation.” And as one of the hunters gasses a victim, he says to the person he’s killing: “And for the record, climate change is real.” These jokes are meant to be clever, but they wear thin after a while because the tone of the movie is so uneven.

On the one hand, “The Hunt” wants to be a biting social commentary on the destructive hatred that can arise from extreme political differences. On the other hand, the commentary is undermined by the slapstick comedy in much of the film, whose violence is almost cartoonish.

The big showdown at the end of “The Hunt” is especially ridiculous, as the people involved suddenly have superhuman-like stunt skills and recover from injuries so quickly and unrealistically, that it takes away the humanity that’s necessary for a story like this to work well. In the end, “The Hunt” is a lot like the self-righteous political blowhards that the movie intends to spoof—there’s a lot more bark than there is bite.

Universal Pictures released “The Hunt” in U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “The Hunt” to March 20, 2020.

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