A new family moves into the house next door to the Valentine family. While they become fast friends, Emilie Valentine starts to notice bruises and odd behavior from the two sons in the new family. Are they victims of child abuse? Or are there many twists and turns to finding out the real reason? (There are.) Turns out one of the sons has killed before and the family is trying to protect him but he is starting to turn on them as well.
Karma has reared its ugly head in the direction of yours truly, friends. I once believed the only omnipotent force in the universe was bitter irony, much like Alanis Morissette in that song I despise. You need only switch on the evening news for proof of irony’s powerful presence in the world. I may have to rethink my stance on Karma.
In past reviews, I have made the occasional unkind remark about the Lifetime Network, specifically the scads of original movies they churn out like sweatshops produce blue jeans. At best, their offerings are good for a few unsolicited guffaws, brilliant drinking games but wretched motion pictures. Perhaps you’re wondering what happened to the “Full House” daughter who wasn’t a Cameron or an Olsen? If this is preying upon your mind, seek professional help immediately before you harm yourself or others. Then, whilst flipping channels in your neutral-toned room at “the home” between therapy sessions, you need only settle in for an afternoon of Lifetime Movies to solve the mystery of Jodie Sweetin’s present whereabouts. I swear to Karma, I had to look that name up.
As you may have gathered, “Playdate” is one of Lifetime’s latest debacles, and a glowing representation of what the network has to offer the bored housewife or unemployable loner on an afternoon bender. Given that I happen to fall into the latter category, I cracked my first Pabst Blue Ribbon of the day at sunrise and prepared myself. With zero expectations at the onset, I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.
Life for the happily wed Emily and Brian Valentine (Marguerite Moreau, Richard Ruccolo) and sunny spawn Olive (Natalie Lind) couldn’t be more idyllic if Norman Rockwell himself had given birth to all three. We know this to be fact because their house resides on the street’s cul-de-sac, an implicit harbinger of prosperous contentment. This life of suburban bliss begins a downward spiral from the first moment the Moor family moves in next door. Consisting of pensive mother Tamara and shifty-eyed sons Titus and Billy, “Playdate” makes no attempt to conceal their collective crazy.
Portrayed by Abby Brammell with the nuance of a piano teacher’s turn as Othello at a Renaissance Festival in Nebraska, Tamara harbors a dark secret involving her family and the death of a boy a year prior, deemed an accident by the authorities. Both Titus and Billy also display signs of imbalance, marking one (or all) of the Moors capable of horrible deeds and even murder. Aidan Potter, resembling a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an able child performer as the menacing Billy, and Julien Lacroix brings a fitting melancholy to teen Titus. Let’s face it, if you’re perusing the Lifetime catalogue for great performances, you may find yourself rooming with that obsessed Jodie Sweetin fan. At least you’ll both have the same taste in television programming, so arguments over the remote control will be at a minimum.
Disconcerting events multiply at an alarming rate between the households, and a nod of credit must be granted to “Playdate” for not wasting any time. Olive fractures her arm in a bit of rough-housing with Billy that may have been an intentional attempt to harm her, and beloved Valentine family pet Hunter disappears, only to be discovered dead on the front stoop the next day. Meanwhile, Emily uncovers startling truths concerning the previously mentioned death in riveting sequences of a cursor feverishly clicking on Googled computer links. Remember the days of yore, when these passages involved the flipping of pages or scanning of microfilm in a musty library basement? I recall complaining about these perfunctory momentum killers, now yearn for simpler times. The Internet age has somehow found a way to make them even more yawn-inducing than before. Bravo, technology.
Once the true psychopath is revealed, the film kicks into a hyper-drive that would confound even Dr. Demento. Brian is nearly crushed to death under the classic Mustang he’s restoring in a scene that damn near approaches torture P*rn, and Emily is stalked throughout the house as she displays the cinematic supernatural ability of magically teleporting from one hiding spot to the next. It’s actually a great deal of goofy fun, though that is stated in comparison to the drudgery proceeding this finale, so take it with a grain of salt. Several grains atop a Margarita the size of a bathtub would be more advisable.
I should give mention to the bromidic direction (save a taut opening credit montage) of Andrew C. Erin, or the excruciatingly bland portrayals of the Valentine family. Perhaps I should expound upon television lifer Kraig Wenman’s script, though you’ve probably gotten the gist of my feelings in that department at several points in this review already. Instead, I’m going to stick with my theory that only the truly hammered could enjoy this movie, and offer a fun challenge for those of you who find yourselves in the unlikely scenario of watching “Playdate.” Whenever one of these events occurs during the run time, take a drink of your chosen alcoholic beverage:
1. Brian informs Emily she’s being paranoid.
2. One of the Moors gives the “cut to commercial” soap opera expression of undeniable guilt.
3. An unnecessary jump scare is elicited by someone entering the screen from off-camera.
4. Billy shifts from grinning countenance to mean face when playing with Olive.
5. An ornate vase filled with flowers steals the entire focus of a scene.
6. You rise for more booze or a bathroom break without bothering to pause the film.
Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be drunker than Jack Nicholson at an awards ceremony in no time flat, and a possible candidate for a liver transplant by the time the “happy ending” music is queued up and the Valentines are all grins and promising futures once again. I make my jokes, but they’re in the service of laughing to keep from crying. “Playdate” is not only a hard chore to sit through, but eighty minutes of my life that I will never have back. Well-played, Karma.
FILM GRADE: D
DRINKING GAME GRADE: PRICELESS