Film Reviews

DARK DESIRE

By • Oct 14th, 2013 •

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Lifetime movies of the week are an acquired taste to be sure, but ever since I finally watched my first one in 2006 entitled GOSPEL OF DECEIT, I quickly realized I was on to something fun here since these films are very guilty pleasures, especially this one, which highlighted a totally did-not-see-it-coming incest theme that was rather perverse, even for Lifetime with their treasured catalogue of story lines showcasing murder, internet addiction and revenge. The plot for GOSPEL OF DECEIT follows your romance novel cover-boy who is procured one night in a bar by a televangelist to seduce his clueless wife in order to discredit her in the eyes of his flock. The plot is then taken to the next level by suggesting in flashback that the wife had a baby out of wedlock with her own father, and the boy she is having sex with may well be…you guessed it! On Lifetime hot men are almost always damaged and very dangerous. This is a given.

LIFETIME has, over the years, made rabid fans out of thousands of women that zestfully follow these movies at home or in the workplace, not to mention a lot of men – both gay and straight – across the country are hooked on watching LIFETIME movies that have titles like MOTHER MAY I SLEEP WITH DANGER, DIRTY TEACHER, FACE OF EVIL or my favorite MY STEPSON MY LOVER. Now once in awhile a gifted director comes along and the bar is raised with a stylish twist on the LIFETIME formula. A formula that for the most part depends on suspense with mandatory soap opera twists without a glimmer of feminist critique to get in the way of all the erotica. The sexy actors in these films almost always turn out to be psychopaths, sociopaths or serial killers, otherwise they are misunderstood fathers and brothers or sons that learn the truth about the bad guys way too late in the proceedings to do much more than kill time until the actress, usually played by Tori Spelling or Tracey Gold, wakes up long enough to pull themselves out of harms way.

Now lets flash forward to 2012 and examine another LIFETIME movie I caught by chance called DARK DESIRE, a film that embellishes the formula by having a brilliant director like Armand Mastroianni who is skilled in creating style, mood and suspense. Armand is a much sought after craftsman who directed the cult film HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE among many other thrillers during the 1980’s.

DARK DESIRE is driven by a virtual catalogue of film noir and suspense motifs beginning with a prologue that slyly references the opening of Michael Curtiz’s MILDRED PIERCE in which a shadowy figure fires a gun and we have to go back in time six months to find out exactly what has taken place. While the film top-lines Kelly Lynch as the mother in distress, the real star is a talented young actor named Nic Robuck who developed his acting chops on daytime soap operas like ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Now if you realize just how many male movie stars started out in soaps – including Kevin Bacon, Ray Liotta and Christopher Reeve – it is quite possible that Nic Robuck could add his name to the list in the near future. Mr. Robuck has all the right moves for real stardom in my opinion. His character, Shane, was a difficult role to pull off since he had to create a dual persona in his performance, whose surface is all sex appeal and charm, yet behind the mask lies a torrent of narcissism and sexual confusion so intense that he can only love himself if he is pretending to be somebody else.

The clever screenplay by Julie Lynch is character driven, as Shane, from his first closeup, is evolving with a spiraling tension from adoring Brandon, his new friend at college (played by Brian Borello), an Alpha male whose youthful good looks and self confidence represent everything Shane is not, including being privileged and rich. Shane cannot take rejection and so he must consume his roommate’s personality by pretending to be somebody, rather than a real nobody that he believes he is in his mind. These two golden lads dance a gorgeous tango at school, sleeping shirtless in their dorm, exercising, wrestling in gym class, as well as Brandon being objectified on Shane’s part. All of this is a dream within a dream until his golden boy develops a relationship with a girlfriend and then the darkness descends. Oddly, in this screenplay, dating is not on Shane’s mind at all, lending a decidedly homoerotic reading of the relationship, considering the obvious sex appeal Nic Robuck invests in his character.

In some aspects DARK DESIRE resembles THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY which also has a handsome opportunist using his amoral charms to attain his goals and finally to be loved by someone if only for a short interval. Nic Robuck as an actor is mesmerizing in his choices, using his eyes to mirror what the script does not. His handsome face is capable of expressing the layers of paranoia that eventually overwhelm his character, until he begins to unravel with little chance of redemption – at least not on Lifetime.

Robuck’s seduction of Brandon’s mother, played by Kelly Lynch, is very similar in tone to Ira Levin’s A KISS BEFORE DYING, which also boasts the same kind of a protagonist, a sexy opportunist who also happens to be homicidal when things do not go his way. One of the best set pieces in the film is the staging of Brandon’s murder on a cliff, which is compelling because there is a moment where Robuck’s character is forced to weigh his growing infatuation with Brandon against his own agenda. It could go either way… until Brandon realizes he made a fatal mistake in his relationship with this boy.

After I watched DARK DESIRE again in preparation for this review I could not help but fantasize a kind of follow-up film: what if Mastroianni and Robuck could be brought back for an encore on LIFETIME. I would really enjoy seeing Nic Robuck paired in yet another noirish thriller with, say, Corey Sevier from GOSPEL OF DECEIT. I am convinced that Nic could very well become the next Richard Chamberlain, if given the opportunity. And as for the director of DARK DESIRE, Armand Mastroianni is well overdue for big screen success.

DARK DESIRE remains an uncommonly stylish exercise in suspense that will entertain as well as surprise those of you perhaps not already familiar with LIFETIME movies and their many guilty pleasures.

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