4 January 2016 | mgconlan-1
Roberts' performance redeems clichéd film
I watched a recent "world premiere" on Lifetime, "Stalked by My Doctor," which begins with an opening scene in which Dr. Albert Beck (Eric Roberts, Jr.), a basically attractive man physically but one on whom the years have not been too kind — his face has acquired a cragginess much like Ted Cassidy's makeup as Lurch the butler on the 1960's TV show "The Addams Family" — is receiving a dear-John call from his latest girlfriend, who says she no longer wants to see him because he's too maniacally controlling. He responds by getting into his car and pushing the speedometer to 115 miles per hour, until we cut to another set of characters: high-school seniors Sophie Green (Brianna Joy Chomer) and her boyfriend Ryan (Carson Boatman, who looks dorky in his introduction scene but gets better-looking as the film progresses and his character matures), both of whom — along with their friends Caitlin (Wyntergrace Williams) and her boyfriend Eddie (Devon Libran) — are obsessing about what college they'll get into. Though this movie is set in southern California (just where in Southern California is maddeningly unclear in writer-director Doug Campbell's script), for some reason Sophie has applied to, and is accepted by, Whittendale University, a key part of the fictional universe in which the films Ken Sanders' Shadowland and the Johnson Production Group make for Lifetime (yes, this takes place in the same world as "The Surrogate," "Dirty Teacher" and "Sugar Daddies"). Ryan is driving himself and Sophie when his phone rings to indicate he's got a text, and of course being an adolescent idiot he tries to receive and reply to the text without stopping the damned car — it's about how he's just been offered a soccer scholarship to USC — only the car crashes and both Ryan and Sophie suffer severe injuries. (It's unclear from Campbell's direction and Clayton Woodhull's editing whether the car they crashed into — or which crashed into them, that isn't clear either — is Dr. Beck's, though if we were meant to believe that this would be an even kinkier movie than it is.) The two young lovebirds are taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital, where cardiac super-surgeon Dr. Beck is on duty and immediately takes charge of Sophie's case. Once he sees Sophie in the hospital room he's immediately smitten with her to the point of obsession — he even kisses her while she's under anesthesia the way McTeague did to Trina in Stroheim's "Greed" — and Sophie, who wasn't totally "under" at the time, has a dim memory of it that's the first intimation she and her parents Jim (Jon Briddell) and Barbara (a quite good avenging-angel performance by Crystal Allen) have that all's not quite "right" between the doctor and their daughter. Much of this movie really did remind me of the old joke, "What do you call a man who thinks he's God? A schizophrenic. What do you call a man who knows he's God? A doctor."
"Stalked by My Doctor" — the sort of clinically accurate but, well, clinical title Lifetime seems to like to pick for its movies — just gets weirder and weirder, and the moment it slides over from overwrought thriller to total high camp is when Dr. Beck breaks into the Greens' home when he thinks no one is there so he can sneak into Sophie's bedroom, rearrange her pillows and get into her bed and presumably jack off. Only before he can do that Sophie comes home with her boyfriend Ryan, whom she briefly broke up with because she (not entirely unjustly) blamed him for her accident but with whom she's ready to kiss (and do a lot more than that!) and make up. So Ryan and Sophie have sex while the hugely important and successful cardiac surgeon watches them from his vantage point in a hall closet, then sneaks out as best as he can after Ryan leaves. As silly as this one is — other Lifetime movies have stretched the suspension of disbelief to a taffy pull; this one shatters it and makes it seem like Doug Campbell, to paraphrase the famous quote from Lewis Carroll, believes he has to write at least six impossible things before breakfast — it's got one saving grace: the full-blooded characterization written by Campbell, and vividly played by Eric Roberts, as the psycho doctor. While through much of the movie one wonders why no one at the hospital notices how crazy he is — are we supposed to believe he's so good at compartmentalization he can be a busy and professionally responsible doctor when he's working (though there's one aspect in which he's not professionally responsible: at no time during the movie, even when he's preparing for surgery or rubbing ointment into Sophie's wound, is he shown wearing medical gloves) and a bonkers S.O.B. when he isn't? — Campbell's script and direction gives Roberts the space he needs to create a relentless and truly frightening villain character whose unforgettable man-you-love-to-hate appeal projects not only the psychopathology of his personality but the arrogance that's been overlaid on it by what profession he's chosen and how good he is at it, to the point where by the end of the movie he's literally telling Sophie that, having saved her life, he now has it in his potential to take it. By all normal standards, "Stalked by My Doctor" is a perfectly terrible movie even for Lifetime, but Roberts' acting gives it a sort of irresistibility and camp appeal.