Presumed Dead in Paradise

Hey lifetimeheads, I’m Chadd Derkins, and I’m proud to be the very first guest poster here at Live-Blogging Lifetime Movies!  Recently, I visited Crystal’s place (along with Carla, Kelly, Chris, Matt and Michelle) to take part in the live-blogging of She’s Too Young.  Once we finished that movie, we didn’t want the party to end, so Crystal cued up Presumed Dead in Paradise, a brand new Lifetime movie which had made its debut just last month.  Afterwards, I opined that this was a much better movie than She’s Too Young, and how it’s a shame that this isn’t the movie Crystal’s blog entry would focus on.  To my surprise, Crystal offered me a challenge:  Do a write-up for the film, and post it!  I consider this a great honor, and I only hope I can live up to the excellent Live-Blogging Lifetime Movies standard.  Now, without further ado, let’s dive into Presumed Dead in Paradise!

Our adventure begins at a fancy-looking boarding school, at which our hero Madison is in attendance.

Emmanuel Lograno on my shoulders makes me happy

If you guessed that I chose this establishing shot of the boarding school just so I could spotlight that there’s someone in this movie named Emmanuel “Sunshine” Logrono, then congratulations on being an excellent judge of character!

Anyway, Madison and her friend pull a scam where they bump into a teacher, causing her to drop her purse, and quickly make an impression of her office key so they can steal answers to some test.  I assumed the purpose of this scene was to foreshadow that Madison is really good at making quick impressions of keys or something, but even after two viewings, I don’t remember whether or not this ever comes into play again.  So I guess as you read the rest of this write-up, just assume that somewhere along the way, Madison key-impresses her way out of trouble.

Having cheated their way to victory on the big test, the girls are all discussing their big winter break plans.  Madison makes up a story about traveling to India to hide the fact that she is just going to be spending her break on campus, because she is lonely and sad and no one loves her.

“Wait a minute,” you might be asking yourself at this point.  “This snowy-ass boarding school doesn’t seem like paradise to me!  Surely this is not the setting in which death will be presumed??”  And sure enough, her estranged stepmother Patricia suddenly shows up and tells her that they will be spending the holiday on the tropical island of St. Isabelle to celebrate Madison’s 18th birthday!  Patricia is played by Olivia d’Abo, most famous for her portrayal of Jenny Gump on The Wonder Years.

Searching For Surf

You can tell Madison’s gotta be stoked for a tropical holiday because of that sweet-ass “Searching For Surf” poster on her wall!  Anyway, we get a flashback here of Madison as a child, hugging her father on a beach.  We learn that this family used to vacation on St. Isabelle years ago, before Madison’s father died in some unspecified accident.  So, maybe closure over her shattered family is the real “surf” she has been “searching” for?  I am so smart.

It should also be noted that Madison wears a necklace with a key on it, and even at this early point in the movie, it has been conspicuously displayed enough that Anton Chekhov himself might as well walk on screen, point a gun at the camera, and wink.

We then get a brief, wholly unnecessary scene aboard the airplane to St. Isabelle.  This segment seems to exist solely so Madison can go into the restroom and establish the fact that she takes some kind of pills.  There was some discussion in Crystal’s living room over whether this was meant to show that Madison was a pill-popping dope fiend, or to show that she had some condition which requires medication.  Later we learn that they are anxiety pills for a legitimate condition, which I am only spoiling early because it is completely fucking irrelevant!

Madison and Patricia get to St. Isabelle and arrive at the BEAUTIFUL goddamn mansion where they will be staying.  There was some confusion on my part about what the deal with this house was… apparently there are resorts in these types of places where people rent out individual “bungalows”.  In this case, the bungalow is a huge mansion, which is in a complex with numerous other such bungalows, as well as a central building which houses the front desk and administration and whatnot.  You might be aware of such places, but I am mentioning this in case you are an uncultured doofus like myself, because this set-up becomes important later.  Well, maybe “important” is the wrong word.  None of this is really important.  What am I doing with my life??

Bungalow

The next morning, Madison wakes up to find a note from Patricia recommending that she check out a local jewelry shop called “Local Jewelry.”

local jewelry

I guess Madison agrees that those earrings are cool, because she hops on her bike and heads straight for Local Jewelry.  She encounters a language barrier, however, when shouting “ROJO!” doesn’t properly communicate to the dealer that she is interested in the red earrings.  Luckily, a friendly stranger offers to help, and after he throws a few “rojo“s around, Madison gets her super-cool earrings.  She thanks the dude, whose name is Blake.  He is the only black character in the movie, and I have strong suspicions that the screenwriters named him Blake just so they could remember which name went with the black guy.

Madison heads home from Local Jewelry, which really seems to be on the wrong side of the St. Isabelle tracks.  So of course she is soon assailed by a rough-and-tumble pair of island rapists.  Does Blake show up and save her?  Of course Blake shows up and saves her!  He kicks the rapists’ butts, gives her a ride home, and makes a date with her to go paddle-boarding the next day.

The next day, Blake takes Madison to an ominously abandoned beach, decks her out in a suspiciously heavy life-vest, and gives her a weird red (or, for native St. Isabellians, rojo) drink in an unlabeled bottle that is obviously not drugged or anything. (If the weird half drank juice isn’t bad enough, him holding it with a towel should have been a red flag! -crystal)

Drugged Gatorade

Then: WHEEE, it’s paddle-boarding time!  Sure enough, Madison passes out on her paddle-board almost immediately and sinks into the briny deep.  She decides that since she’s drowning, she might as well have a flashback.  We see her as a child on the beach with her father once again, and we finally learn the Secret Origin of the key necklace.  It was a gift from Dad – the “key to his heart”.  He also gives her a “map to pirate treasure”.

Back to the present, we cut to Madison being washed up on a beach.  This incident sparks a debate among our movie-watching crew over whether she has washed up back on the same St. Isabelle beach from whence she came – OR has the rip current vanished her away to a completely different island – perhaps a desert island???  The desert island theory is fueled briefly by the fact that when Madison drags herself off the beach, she seems to be in some kind of desolate jungle, complete with monkey and parrot noises.  You guys, I got SO EXCITED about the desert island theory, but alas it was not meant to be.  Eventually Madison finds herself on a paved road, and it’s clear she’s still in boring old St. Isabelle.  She flags down a pick-up truck, and her request for a ride is met by a scary-looking dude who just grunts and points his sausage finger toward the back of the truck.  You’d think Madison would have learned by now not to trust the men on this island, but nope, she hops right in.

PRETTY GIRL GET IN TRUCK

Luckily, this man actually turns out to be a beautiful angel in disguise, and Madison gets home okay.  She enters the house, and manages to eavesdrop on a conversation between Patricia and Blake (!) which reveals that they were working together to murder Madison!  One thing I don’t get is that they specifically mention that they drugged her by switching out her anxiety medication – so what the fuck was the red drink all about??  Anyway, while this exposition-heavy conversation is taking place, Madison is sneaking around the house on her hands and knees like Solid Snake from Metal Gear if my mother was playing the game (My favorite part of the movie- I was crying thinking of all the ways she could sneak around the house. “Pose like a statue in the entryway” was my favorite. -crystal).  Patricia eventually spots her and starts fronting like “Oh, thank god you’re okay, we were looking all over for you!” as if they hadn’t been loudly talking about killing her for ten minutes!  Madison runs like hell.

She makes her way to the police station where we finally get to meet the legendary Emmanuel “Sunshine” Logrono, who plays the Chief of La Policia De Los St. Isabelle.  Madison tells him that someone is trying to kill her, and his incredulous response reminds me of nothing more than this:

Patricia suddenly shows up, and accuses Madison of being a crazy stalker, who has been pretending to be her stepdaughter, and who might be “involved in gangs or something”.  Then she brings in her secret weapon:

Fake Madison

Patricia has hired a teenage girl to pretend to be her stepdaughter Madison!  This version has a phony passport and ID, and has even managed to apply Madison’s fingerprints to her fingers using what looks a lot like Scotch tape to me.  Also, it must be said that she is way hotter than regular Madison, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.  Anyway, this has to be the STUPIDEST PLAN OF ALL TIME, and it will never work once they leave this tiny, isolated community and go back to America where there are people who actually know Madison.  But for now, the dumb-ass St. Isabelle police buy it, and they throw (the real) Madison in jail.

Back at the bungalow, Fake Madison is really nervous that Real Madison is going to kill them, but Patricia reassures her by saying, “She would rather run than face her own fears,” a really corny statement which seems entirely inapplicable to this situation.  It is revealed that in addition to being a female teenager, Fake Madison also brings crazy computer hacker skills to the table.  She goes CLAKETY CLICKETY CLAKETY on a keyboard, a bunch of windows pop up on the monitor, and before you know it, Madison’s position is being remotely tracked via internet usage or some such nonsense.  The bad guys all pat each other on the back.

Meanwhile, Madison escapes from jail somehow, and if you predict that the very first thing she does is use the internet, then you’re probably ready to write your own Lifetime movie!  Madison goes to an internet cafe and visits some totally real websites:

Internett

After discovering that her Gi-Mail and Faces and Friends accounts have both been hacked by Fake Madison, she decides to use Zowie to look up the childhood friend she used to hang out with back in her flashback days.  After leaving the cafe, she tracks down her friend Andres, and every girl I’m watching with is in love with him and his powerful arms.

Andres

Andres is a restaurateur of some sort, which you can tell because he says something like, “I could hear your stomach growling from across the room…. grrrrrrrr” which normally would be kind of gross and creepy, but I guess nothing could be creepy coming from arms like those.  He makes some food, and the two old friends catch up.  Madison is disappointed by Patricia’s betrayal because for the first time since her father’s death, she really felt like they were bonding.  This strikes me as a little odd, because I don’t think I’d be wistfully wishing for a stronger bond with my step-mother in this situation!  Andres sympathizes with her family problems though, because he lost his parents in a hurricane, and that’s sad too.  Madison says something like, “Oh you must think I’m so self-centered, I’ve just been talking about myself this whole time!”  And I’m like NO SHIT, YOU ARE BEING ACTIVELY HUNTED BY MURDERERS!  YOUR PROBLEMS ARE THE PRIORITY RIGHT NOW!  Andres agrees with me, and the two old friends decide to Hardy Boy the shit out of this sitch.

Madison’s first bit of detective work is remembering that tomorrow is her 18th birthday so, like, maybe that has something to do with all of this?  “Maybe there’s something back at the villa that can help,” she deducts, and tasks Andres with distracting Patricia and her cronies while she searches the bungalow.  Andres makes Madison swear upon her key necklace that she will never give up, just in case anyone has forgotten about the stupid fucking necklace.

So this is where the set-up of the resort becomes important for a few minutes.  Andres goes to the lobby of the hotel and calls Patricia, claiming to be a police detective who needs to speak with her in the lobby immediately.  The lobby is apparently so far away from the bungalow that they need to travel there via car, and for some reason all of the bad guys go, leaving the bungalow unguarded.  Once they’re gone, Madison begins searching the house.  She eventually finds a vanity mirror with a loose screw, and opens it to discover a manila envelope with her name on it.

mirror mirror on the wall

Meanwhile, back at the lobby, the bad guys have discovered that there is no police detective waiting for them.  Andres comes up with the stupidest plan possible to further distract them:  he goes up to Fake Madison, and pretends he thinks she is Real Madison.  He is all, “Hey Madison, it’s me your childhood friend, one of the only people on the island who couldn’t possibly be fooled by an impostor!  How have you been?” and whatnot.  I don’t understand what result he could have possibly expected from this interaction, other than to clue them in that something is amiss. Needless to say, they immediately get clued in and jump in their car to race back to the bungalow.  Andres somehow beats them back on foot, and he and Madison escape in the nick of time.  Patricia gets back to the house, sees the mirror (which Madison didn’t even bother to fucking reassemble) and does her best Darth Vader “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

In the envelope is a release form for a safe deposit box at the Bank of St. Isabelle.  Madison’s father cashed out his stocks before he mysteriously died, and left them to Madison upon the event of her 18th birthday.  So even those of us who are really dumb should now be able to fully piece together Patricia’s evil plan.  Man, I don’t even have the words to describe my feelings about Patricia, so I will just let IMDB forum user hicuff@aol.com do the talking:

imdbI couldn’t agree more, hicuff@aol.com!  It’s really super mean to try to kill someone and steal their identity and inheritance!

Next up, Madison and Andres get involved in a jungle shootout with Blake and one of his thugs (who of course is one of the rapists from the beginning of the movie, and it’s actually weirdly comforting to learn that it was only pretend attempted rape).  The make-believe rapist gets accidentally shot by Blake in a friendly fire incident.  Then Andres and Blake have a fist fight in which the latter proves that he is really awesome at karate kicking someone while they’re down.  Describing fight scenes is hard!  I’ll just wrap it up by saying that Blake eventually grabs Madison and runs off, the cops show up, and Andres gets arrested for shooting the thug.

Madison is taken to a rickety Abduction Shack in another part of the woods.  Patricia shows up and makes a comic book villain speech where she outlines her devious machinations, which every single person watching the movie has already figured out.  Madison starts an argument with Patricia over whether or not she is a good stepmother, which, again, is a really dumb thing to be debating at this point.  Patricia ticks another Batman villain cliché off her checklist by instructing Blake to kill Madison, and then leaving.  There is an extended segment here which involves Madison manipulating Blake into second-guessing killing her, and using his hesitation to beat the shit out of him and escape.  Soon after, Patricia shows up again and murders him for his failure.  Blake’s role in this movie has been pretty weird – there has been a vague and sporadic running theme of him struggling morally with all the bad guy shit he is doing.  I assumed this would pay off with him turning on Patricia and helping Madison, but in the end it doesn’t pay off at all!  He fails to find redemption, and he dies as he lived, as a murderous kidnapper in a shack in the woods.

RIP Blake

Goodnight, sweet prince.  You were too beautiful for this world.

The next morning, a MANHUNT FOR MADISON is in full effect, with the stupid-ass police actively searching for “that crazy girl everyone is talking about”.  But being on the top of the St. Isabelle’s Most Wanted list must not deter our intrepid hero from making it to the bank before her wicked stepmother and evil doppelgänger can claim the safe deposit box which is hers by birthright!  Well, either Madison has invoked some sort of invisibility spell or else everyone on this island is blind as fuck, because this proves to be no problemo.  Despite the fact that she is wearing huge conspicuous sunglasses and a t-shirt soaked in dirt and blood, she manages to waltz into the bank without being noticed, and even takes an elevator up to a mezzanine so she can watch the action unfold from above.

Super Spy

From her secret perch, she witnesses the bad guys retrieve the safe deposit box.  Fake Madison’s scotch tape fingerprints are taken for identification purposes, and the bank guy manages to confirm their authenticity just by eyeballing them for two seconds, in spite of the fact that the prints he is comparing them to are from when Madison was like five years old.  If only all those CSI characters knew how easy fingerprint analysis really is, they could all have saved so much time!

So the safe deposit box is finally opened, and inside is some paperwork, as well as a small wooden box with a heart on it.  The heart box is locked, and OH MY GOD HOW OH HOW CAN THIS BOX POSSIBLY BE UNLOCKED??  Real Madison suddenly rushes down from the mezzanine and shows the bank guy her fingerprint, which he once again analyzes by glancing at it for two seconds.  We are then treated to this amazing exchange:

MADISON, HOLDING OUT HER HANDS:  Feel free to check them!
BANK GUY, LOOKING AT HER HANDS AND NODDING:  They seem normal!

The cops show up and everybody is trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and how there can be two Madisons.  They check the paperwork from the safe deposit box, which confirms that Madison is to receive 10 MILLION DOLLARS upon her 18th birthday.  There is also a note which says “Your key unlocks two hearts,” and like a low-rent Jill Valentine, Madison uses her necklace key to unlock the heart box.  Inside is the treasure map from her flashbacks.

Fake Madison abruptly confesses everything, and she and Patricia are promptly arrested.  At this point, I was expecting Patricia to go into a monologue explaining how she also killed Madison’s father, but if she did anything of the sort, I must not have been paying attention.  So the mystery of Madison’s father’s death remains UNSOLVED.

Madison and Andres follow the map to some ruins.

Ruins

Crystal and Kelly recognize these ruins from the time their band The Marshmallows traveled to Puerto Rico, cluing us in to the fact that the movie was filmed in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Crystal and Kelly complain that this spot is a bustling tourist attraction, and it would be impossible to hide a hidden treasure there for years.  Um, it’s fiction, you guys!  When I see the Statue of Liberty, I don’t wonder what happened to the damage from the time Wolverine and Sabretooth had a fight on its head!  Grow the hell up, Marshmallows!

Anyway, they find the treasure buried under about half an inch of dirt, and it consists of a locket with a picture of Madison’s family in it, as well as a note from her father saying he loves her and whatnot.  This strikes me as a little weird because it’s almost as if the father knew he would be long dead on her 18th birthday.  Maybe he did?  I want to know more about the father’s death, god damn it!!

But alas, it is not meant to be.  Madison and Andres share a victorious hug, and Presumed Dead in Paradise is over.  Roll credits.

Okay, so my first thought about this movie is to wonder why the HELL it’s called Presumed Dead in Paradise??  When we began watching it, we speculated that it might be a dramatization of the Natalee Holloway story, but that obviously was not the case.  Man, the plot of this movie had nothing to do with the presumed death of Madison or anybody else, from what I could tell!  In fact, Olivia D’abo’s entire plan hinged on Madison being PRESUMED ALIVE in spite of the fact that she would actually be dead!  She even hired a goddamn impersonator to ensure that Madison’s death could never be presumed!  I suppose Madison was presumed dead by the bad guys for about ten minutes following the paddle-boarding incident, but that can’t possibly be the inspiration for the title, can it??

Having gotten that nitpick off my chest, I was actually really surprised by how much I enjoyed this.  Most Lifetime movies are based on actual incidents, or are overblown cautionary tales about one alarmist issue or another.  Presumed Dead in Paradise veers away from that trope, and is just a simple, fun little crime story.  It almost reminded me of a British cozy mystery, or a really dumbed-down Hitchcock film.  It turns out that the director, Mary Lambert, was also responsible for the genuinely scary 1989 film adaptation of Pet Sematary, as well as one of my favorite SyFy Channel creature features Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (featuring both Debbie Gibson and Tiffany).  So I guess I have no choice but to declare myself the president of the Mary Lambert Fan Club.  She also seems to have not one but two teen haunted house movies currently in pre-production, so I will definitely be keeping an eye out for those!

This has been really fun, so a huge THANK YOU goes out to Crystal, as well as the rest of our viewing party!  If you want to read more of my ramblings about movies (as well as comic books, video games, and other fun stuff), please check out my blog The Sense of Right Alliance.

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