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Are they serious?
That was the question the Internet pondered after posters for Lifetime’s latest trash-TV movie, A Deadly Adoption, began appearing. What were we to make of these comically ominous ads with Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig doing their best stone faces? Lifetime’s marketing department insisted the former SNL-ers were playing it straight (or at least as straight as any Lifetime movie is capable of being). But it really only took a quick glance at the film’s IMDb page — which credits Funny or Die Presents… and The Spoils of Babylon’s Andrew Steele as teleplay writer — to suspect that all involved were having a laugh.
This suspicion was borne out by the opening scene of A Deadly Adoption, in which seemingly happy couple Robert and Sarah Benson (Ferrell and Wiig) are mingling with friends outside their picturesque lakeside home, overlit so as to suggest some gauzy Eden. Soon enough, though, paradise is lost when Sarah (pregnant for the second time) takes a hilariously protracted tumble off a rickety dock. Robert saves her, but their unborn baby dies. Cue opening credits, during which the “Deadly” in the title morphs from white to bloody red lettering.
So it’s all a joke, but one that’s told via two-hour (85 minutes, minus commercials) deadpan. The only real entertainment value comes from the tension generated by Ferrell, Wiig and the game cast’s attempts to maintain the ruse. At this, they mostly succeed: The stiltedness of the early scenes is amusing, as we come to know Robert and Sarah’s backgrounds — he’s a best-selling financial guru, she’s the purveyor of a successful 100 percent-organic food stand — and learn of their mortal fear (Robert’s especially) of their insulin-requiring daughter, Sully (Alyvia Alyn Lind), falling into a diabetic coma. (There is perhaps no finer line-reading in Lifetime-movie history than Ferrell’s admonishment: “You know the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis!”)
These patently ridiculous character shadings aren’t the main attraction, however. That would be the arrival on scene of Bridget (Jessica Lowndes), a down-and-out pregnant woman willing to let the Bensons adopt her child. She has all the airs of a tragically lost waif and the body — baby bump included — of a come-hither supermodel. And, of course, she has ulterior motives, which get increasingly absurd, even as the performers maintain their absolute sober conviction in this neither-fish-nor-fowl burlesque.
That’s the most frustrating thing about A Deadly Adoption. Beyond Ferrell, Wiig and company’s superficial assurance at keeping the one-joke premise going (right up to a climactic musical number that elicits a chuckle or two), the film feels disconnected and utterly disposable. The best parodies are acts of loving possession that dig deep, even as they keep the laughs steadily coming. There’s no sense that Ferrell, Wiig, Steele or director Rachel Goldenberg have any genuine feeling for the low art they’re spoofing. Compare their cursory contemptuousness with Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein; the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Airplane!; SCTV’s Ingmar Bergman lampoon, Whispers of the Wolf; or Charles Busch’s women’s melodrama satire, Die, Mommie, Die! — farces that both skewered and paid honor to their sources instead of wallowing in easy derision. And if the ultimate point here is that Lifetime movies are, by their nature, superfluous garbage … well, that’s a pretty weak-tea basis for this project’s existence. May its pop cultural shelf life be correspondingly short-lived.
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