Normally, when I’m looking for a Lifetime movie to review, I head over to the channel in question and flip through the options until I find a synopsis that sounds agreeably bananas. Of course, it’s common knowledge amongst my friends that I’m the Lifetime Guy — and believe me, that’s led to at least one long, dark night of the soul — so if they happen across something they like the sound of, it gets sent my way. That’s the extent of the vetting process. Not that this week’s entry, The Assault, is not bad by the standards of the network. It’s just that it’s Lifetime’s version of the Steubenville rape case, and writing a funny review about a rape movie isn’t exactly easy. I don’t want to seem like I’m making light of the real problem of sexual assault, but in my defense, Lifetime created a fucking hashtag for this one, so I’m at least at their level.
That… that doesn’t help my case.
I’ve tackled rape before on my Very Special Journey, with the Afterschool Special “Did You Hear What Happened to Andrea?” It wasn’t really anything I was eager to come back to, but since this particular movie begins with a sobbing girl walking out onto a football field in the middle of a game, dousing herself in gasoline, and attempting a gritty reboot of the Human Torch, it was sent my way. The scene is totally worth it, just a gonzo moment where the Lifetime network threw up its collective hands and were like, “Yeah, we set girls on fire now here. Lifetime… TO THE EXTREME!”
The young lady putting herself on trial for witchcraft is cheerleader Sam Gleason, and she’s saved by QB Reed Johnson, who full on tackles her. Two things here. One, good on the coach for teaching his quarterback how to tackle. That lack has bit a certain Texas team in the ass before (too soon, Dillon fans?). Secondly, Johnson really plows into Sam, to the point that it’s mildly surprising when Johnson gets up, and he’s not in the middle of a blasted crater filled with splattered cheerleader parts. He doesn’t even spike her severed head. As it turns out, Sam and Reed used to date, but they broke up. At one point, a character is like, “Why did you save her? You were broken up.” So, yeah… that’s the kind of monsters you’re dealing with in town.
Sam has an injured arm, and the doctors uncover evidence of a sexual assault, which leads me to believe these doctors don’t know what arms are. Don’t they cover that on like day one of med school? “These are arms. Notice how they are not inside the vagina? Note that down, it will be on the test.” Sam fingers the guy responsible (not like that), the tailback Christopher Burch. However, punky girl Frankie shows up at the hospital asking Sam why she only dropped the hammer on Burch and not “everyone else.” That’s pretty much the worst scenario to hear those two words in.
This town is one of those places that revolves around high school football, and that is never a healthy kind of community. Elevating a bunch of hormone-crazed kids whose chief pastime is head trauma to the level of gods is guaranteed to cause trouble. So when Sam accuses first Burch and then “everybody else” of raping her, she’s the problem. Not the rapists. It’s strongly implied that the only reason anything gets done at all is because Detective Jodi Miller (Newsradio’s Khandi Alexander) is a newcomer, and that she has some assault in her past. She’s also the sister of the coach, Tim Miller (Malik Yoba, who will always be bounty hunter/party planner Ice from Arrested Development), further complicating matters.
It initially comes down to he-said she-said. Burch says it was consensual and Sam can’t remember anything from that night (she was extremely drunk). Coach’s position is that he has college scouts coming to the next game, and players shouldn’t lose their careers over whatever happened, which was due to poor judgment and alcohol abuse on everyone’s parts. Sam watches her friends dwindle to nothing — literally, this installment features yet another ersatz Facebook, and it makes a hilariously sad booping noise when she loses a friend. I kind of want Facebook to adopt this. I’d post more political/religious/gardening rants just to hear the noise. Sam loses pretty much everyone, other than Frankie and Reed.
Frankie, though, knows the conspiracy goes all the way to the top. By which I mean Burch. Basically, there were a bunch of posts on Twitter and Fakebook with the hashtag #cheerleader detailing that night that suddenly got taken down. Frankie saved every bit she could, because as it turns out she and Sam used to be best friends, but Sam went the popular girl cheerleader route, while Frankie went the awesome internet vigilante way. They try to build a timeline of the night and fight a disturbing dead period between 2 and 3 in the morning. Sam begins a blog reaching out for more information, doing her best to own the hashtag, which she does by getting it tattooed onto the back of her neck. I feel like that’s one you’ll regret later on, just because no one is going to know what a hashtag is in twenty years, and everyone will think she wants a number of cheerleaders to be specified later.
Things get really bad when a vine surfaces of Sam saying “Take on all of you. Every single one.” One look and we know it’s out of context. That’s how the Lifetime network works. Sure enough, it is. Eventually, one of Sam’s cheerleader friends who initially abandoned her, leaves a phone in the police station with the full version of the video. This one clearly has Sam saying, then shrieking, “No.” So that’s pretty cut and dried! Not so much. The rapists get arrested, but it’s unlikely anything too bad is going to happen to them. Sam decides to play the audio of the rape over the PA system at the game to make some kind of statement. It’s better than setting herself on fire. In true Lifetime fashion, everyone stands up at this powerful moment rather than what would really happen: a bunch of disgruntled football fans wondering why their game is being interrupted.
The role of Anonymous is entirely cut out, instead served by Frankie. And unlike reality, Frankie doesn’t face any legal reprisal for supplying the incriminating information. Lifetime wanted something that was a little less soul-crushing than reality, and can you really blame them?
What did we learn? Always be nice to your tech-savvy friend from fifth grade. You never know when she’s the only way you’re getting justice.