The Lifetime network is just fucking with me at this point.
It’s inevitable that, in a project as long as this one, some themes are going to start to emerge. None were more striking than my discovery of the Alcoholic Mom Trilogy nestled in the middle of some otherwise unconnected Afterschool Specials. Perhaps, though, the discovery of these themes is what this whole endeavor is about. Otherwise, it turns into some kind of weird James Franco-esque pop-culture experiment that makes everyone hate me.
I just wish Gone Missing weren’t so goddamn boring. Nothing against her, but I’m beginning to think that Daphne Zuniga’s presence in a Lifetime movie heralds a deeply unpleasant 84 minutes. It has nothing to do with her performance, which is perfectly fine for what we’re looking at, but maybe her agent only gives her the scripts the rest of the cast of Melrose Place has already passed on.
To properly explain the plot of this one, I need you to imagine a road. It’s right around San Diego, so over your right shoulder, you see the blue Pacific. Over your left, some dun colored hills with big patches of prickly pear cactus. It’s absolutely beautiful, the kind of place where you want to eat Mexican food, drink bear, and listen to the waves wash up on the sand. But every ten minutes on the road, there’s a turnoff. A really obviously evil turn off. The first one leads to a bear with a chainsaw for an erection. The second one to a vampire’s castle where they make rohypnol. The third one leads to a pack of bikers led by Satan and Dick Cheney. And so forth and so on.
This road you imagined is the one traveled by Kaitlin, an eighteen-year-old high schooler on Spring Break, on a harrowing journey from a border town to her resort hotel in Coronado. She follows that pretty road, dodging past the bear with the chainsaw dick, past the creepily leering vampire in his castle, past Dick Cheney shooting Satan in the face, only to turn off at the last possible one, which is also arguably the only one you might not mind so much. Instead of getting raped, murdered, raped and murdered, put in a snuff film, shipped off to a Macau sex dungeon, or any number of a thousand fates, she suffers a badly broken ankle, a little exposure, and maybe some mild dehydration.
As you might have guessed from that road description, Gone Missing flirts with darkness. Hell, Gone Missing tells darkness how drunk it is, flipping its hair and suggestively waggling its eyebrows. Gone Missing gives darkness a lapdance and invites it home, but at the last minute remembers it has to get up early the next morning and slams the door in darkness’s face. Poor darkness, doomed to go home alone and jerk off to one of those ASPCA commercials with the Sarah MacLachlan song.
So, Kaitlin and her best friend Matty get to go on Spring Break! Yay! But their moms and Katlin’s little brother are coming along. Boo! Moms Rene and Lisa are BFFs from the dawn of time, who are implied to have had a wild youth. Rene has turned into a helicopter mom, complete with loudspeaker and spotlight, so intent on controlling her daughter’s life with the zeal Kim Jong-Un. Lisa is one of those moms who wants to be her daughter’s best friend, and Matty is a burgeoning trainwreck, blind drunk in her first scene and hungover in her second (something Lisa is entirely aware of and dismisses with a breezy sigh). The girls want to have fun with alcohol and condoms and whatnot, but Rene will not stand for such malarkey.
After one night, Kaitlin and Matty vanish. The moms experience growing panic as it turns out these two are definitely gone, rather than just avoiding them. In the fine tradition of Lifetime Moms, the two become amateur sleuths. Sure, they enlist both the law and resort security, but the plot is always being driven by these two. Each commercial break leads them to another step along the long and bizarre night the two girls had. Each time they get right next to some horrible fate (Kaitlin nearly gets raped three times. Seriously.), only to stay on the clear and straight road. Even Matty, who goes across the border with three guys and winds up in some terrifying snuff-house, escapes relatively unharmed.
See, it’s Lifetime, not a movie where you need Liam Neeson to find them. This is fundamentally my problem with the movie. Well, that, and the endless scenes of Daphne Zuniga and Lauren Bowles (playing Lisa, perhaps most famous from her turn on True Blood) wandering around a resort and looking frustrated.
The bulk of the drama, other than Kaitlin’s night (played as a series of jittery-cam flashbacks) is the tension between the friends. Basically, the movie wants the moms watching to know that neither Rene nor Lisa’s parenting strategy is right. They’re both just terrible moms. It’s heavily implied that if Kaitlin weren’t smothered and Matty were given maybe one boundary, none of this would have happened.
The most Lifetime-y flourish, of course, is the husbands. Lisa is divorced after her husband cheated on her. For about half the movie, I was convinced Rene was divorced as well, albeit amicably as she and husband Jack talk on the phone. Nope, he just travels a lot for business. Lisa states several times Rene’s marriage is on the rocks, but it never actually goes anywhere. Jack attempts to fly out to San Diego to help with the search and lend support, but never makes it. Rene finds Kaitlin more or less all by herself, just by being more persistent than anyone else. She’s a hard-boiled mom.
Well, that plus her visions.
Yeah, this movie has more dropped threads than a… coat… dropping… factory? Sorry. I didn’t think that one through. Rene has visions of her daughter drowning. They’re so important to the movie that’s the opening shot. I think it’s supposed to either be a red herring for the final fakeout scare (Kaitlin does not take the turnoff into the ocean for a midnight swim), or a weird psychic impulse that leads her to the stretch of shore where she does finally find the weak and injured Kaitlin.
I mean, who cares? I’ve defended a lot of Lifetime movies, both for those offering unintentional entertainment, intentional entertainment, and some unholy middle ground. Gone Missing gives us none of the above. I’m pretty sure it was shot like an Adam Sandler movie: an excuse to get to a San Diego resort for a couple days and maybe shoot a movie.
So what did we learn? Don’t be a helicopter mom, and don’t be best friend mom. Also, don’t be dad.