Beautiful and Twisted full movie review - Another film that wasn't what it could have been
"Beautiful & Twisted" was directed by someone named Christopher Zalla from a script by Teena Booth (essentially Lifetime's go-to writer when they can't get Christine Conradt t
hat week), Stephen Kay, Inon Shampanier and Natalie Shampanier ? I'm assuming those last two are a married couple and I can only hope their real-life relationship is better than the one they wrote about! "Beautiful & Twisted" is based on an actual story, the murder of hotel heir Ben Novack, Jr. (Rob Lowe) by his wife Narcisa "Narcy" Veliz (Paz Vega ? an ironic first name given the morals, or lack thereof, of her character!), Narcy's brother Cristobal (Hemky Madera) and a couple of hit people in Cristobal's posse. Ben Novack, Sr. built and ran the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, and though his business eventually went south and he had to sell the hotel (and died a few years later), at the time this story opens his wife, Bernice Novack (played by Candice Bergen in a performance that essentially steals the movie), is still alive in the big house her husband's money bought them, with a living room the size of an Astaire-Rogers movie set whose centerpiece is a grand piano given the Novacks by Frank Sinatra.
The film is narrated by Rob Lowe's character in a posthumous flashback ? a gimmick that's been used in great movies like "Sunset Boulevard" as well as lousy ones like "Scared to Death" and that I recall on seeing on at least one previous Lifetime film, "The Two Mr. Kissels" (about two rich kids done to death by their grasping, gold-digging wives) ? as he explains the weird upbringing he had: he lived with his parents in a 17th floor suite at the Fontainebleau and literally never saw any kids his own age. The only women he ever met were dancers and showgirls at the hotel, so naturally when he grew up and came of age sexually dancers and showgirls were the only women he was attracted to ? which meant that when he wasn't pursuing his own business as a convention planner, he was hanging out strip clubs and paying handsomely for lap dances.
He meets Narcy at one such club, and finds that she's not willing to leap into bed with him at her first glance at his bankroll ? she's a single mom working as a dancer to raise her daughter May (Soni Bringas), and she's making a pathetic attempt to shield May from the sordidness of what she does for a living even though the girl is on to her and knows exactly how her mom is keeping the proverbial roof over their heads. Ben falls for Narcy big-time and insists she quit her job and marry him ? which is just fine with her ? and she's shown in the film as a full-blown femme fatale in the classic noir manner, keeping Ben (and every other male she encounters, it seems) hopelessly hooked by throwing her sexual wiles at them. The other aspect of Ben's character that provides interest is he's a huge devotée of superhero comic books in general and Batman in particular ? he boasts that he owns the second-largest collection of Batman memorabilia in the world and he even has a working version of the Batmobile used in the 1960's Batman TV show ? and he compares himself to Batman and Narcy to Catwoman. He rescues her from a drunken club patron who's trying to rape her in the parking lot (though even before he arrives she's done such a good job fighting the guy off she hardly seems to need rescue!) and the relationship spirals from there, as in "out of control."
"Beautiful & Twisted" is one of those frustrating movies that could have been considerably better than it is ? I kept thinking of "Double Indemnity" throughout, also a story about a decent but weak man entrapped into a murder plot by a sexually aggressive and irresistible femme fatale, and also narrated, if not literally from beyond the grave, at least by a character knocking at heaven's (or hell's) door (the narration in "Double Indemnity" is dictated onto a Dictaphone machine by Fred MacMurray's character as he is mortally wounded), and wondering how 1940's people like James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder could get this story so triumphantly right while Christopher Zalla, Teena Booth and the rest of her writing committee fell far short of the story's interesting potential.
Part of the problem is Rob Lowe; given that the biggest off-screen thing anyone remembers about him is his sexual shenanigans in a hotel room during a Democratic convention, it's almost inevitable that he get cast in things like this and "Drew Peterson: Untouchable" (in which he was the killer, and he acted considerably better than he did as the victim here!), but there's something superficial about him, something too light-hearted to make him work as the driven Ben Novack, Jr. Fred MacMurray wasn't any great shakes as an actor, either, but Wilder got a laconic, emotionally restrained performance out of him that works far better for this type of story than Lowe's almost terminal charm ? it's as if Lowe and his director and writers desperately wanted us to like this guy and see him as a pathetic victim of a sexual snare, but he's too much of a sleazepit to make it work and instead we end up thinking through most of the movie that these two deserved each other!