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Film Review: 'Secret Obsession'

A traumatic accident is the least of Brenda Song's problems in this mediocre thriller that wastes a good cast.

After being chased through the night by an unseen assailant, Jennifer Williams (Brenda Song) is struck by a car as she tries to flee, leaving her with a broken foot and amnesia. It's in the hospital that Jennifer is reunited with her husband Russell (Mike Vogel), who comforts Jennifer as she finds herself unable to remember him. Upon returning to their lavish home in the mountains, Jennifer and Russell begin trying to return to their normal lives.

But as Jennifer spends more time with the husband she doesn't remember, she begins being plagued with violent visions and notices oddities that have her questioning if Russell is really the doting husband he appeared to be. With Detective Frank Page (Dennis Haysbert) investigating Jennifer's case, startling revelations--while Jennifer makes a horrifying discovery of her own.

It wasn't much of a surprise for me when I saw that Secret Obsession was produced by Hybrid, who is known primarily for making Lifetime movies. Not only does the film follow a plot that has been explored by Lifetime in the past, but the film also has Ashley Scott (a Lifetime regular) in the minor role of Nurse Masters. Unfortunately, unlike the stronger films in Lifetime's collection, Secret Obsession does little to liven up the well-treaded story it follows, leaving the story so dry and by-the-book that it's hard to become invested in the story or the characters involved in it.

It's in the characters that Secret Obsession makes another fatal misstep: it leaves a great deal of them horrifically underdeveloped, which is a shame given the film's cast is strong and does all that they can with their paper thin roles. Having seen Brenda Song show her acting prowess in the Suite Life series and The Social Network, seeing her saddled in a role with all the depth and personality of a cardboard box is disheartening to say the least. Song makes the most of what she's given, and manages to have some genuinely emotional, sympathetic scenes as Jennifer. The film also wisely doesn't keep her in the dark about Russell's suspicious behavior for very long, allowing Secret Obsession to avoid the pitfall of having an unlikably naive protagonist.

The same can be said about Mike Vogel, who I recall for his brief but memorable appearances as Johnny Foote in The Help, as Russell Williams. Vogel's portrayal of Russell is far from subtle and paints him as dubious, though this can be seen as aligning with the film not waiting long to have Russell's true colors revealed. While Vogel gives Russell some moments of palpable menace, the film ultimately leaves Russell as a half-baked, cliche-spouting "Entitled Nice Guy"-esque villain, with the script giving Russell little charm to separate him from countless other villains of his type and preventing Vogel and Song from developing the chemistry together that their characters need. The script also has both Jennifer and Russell (among other characters) acting uncharacteristically stupid for the sake of plot convenience, with one such instance being required for the plot to be set in motion. 

Joining Song and Vogel in wasted talent is Dennis Haysbert as Frank Page. Like Song, Haysbert does what he can with Frank's thinly developed backstory involving his kidnapped daughter, with a scene where he wraps up toys he bought for his daughter's latest birthday being made extremely poignant due to Haysbert's heartfelt performance. But aside from that one scene, Frank's backstory plays little to no role in the film's events, only being brought back up towards the conclusion in an unsuccessful attempt at character growth. While the rest of Frank's characterization is the standard "Tough, Dedicated Cop" archetype, Haysbert plays Frank with the right amount of strength and charisma that he ended up becoming my favorite character for much of the movie.

WARNING: Spoilers Below

Another disappointing factor about Secret Obsession is that there are aspects of it that are good on their own, but don't mitigate the weaker points, or could've provided strength to the film if they had been explored. The film's opening showing Jennifer being chased and eventually struck by a car is a tense scene that throws the audience into the action right away, which unfortunately makes the stale story that follows it all the more irritating. There's also the introduction of Paul Sloan's character Jim Kahn, a witness to the accident who is hinted to have a connection to Jennifer and/or Russell/Ryan.

The intrigue that is built around Jim had me thinking Secret Obsession would pull a twist out of its sleeve, but instead, the film takes this opportunity and throws it away by not only having Jim unceremoniously killed off, but also never explaining who he was and what his connection to Jennifer or Ryan is. This blatant hanging thread proves to be among the film's more aggravating qualities, as it is indicative of both lost potential and (as I suspect) poor proofreading.

Spoilers Over

While Secret Obsession may have been produced and written by people familiar to the Lifetime scene, it certainly doesn't have the feel that the best of Lifetime's catalog offers. Being without depth, compelling characters, or Lifetime-esque thrills, Secret Obsession is left painfully bland, with its strong cast and potential for twists on the formula being frustratingly wasted. Like this film's cast, the crew behind Secret Obsession can and has done better than this, and here's hoping this film can be used by them to learn from mistakes and improve in the future.

(And on a personal note, here's hoping Brenda Song and Mike Vogel get the chance to be in a good Lifetime-ian film in the future)

Score: 3 out of 10 engraved lighters.

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