Judge Maurice Cobbs has learned that there are a lot of spoiled children in the world today. He used to think that they all smelled that way.
They never dreamed starting a family would cost this much.
Not having much to do last Wednesday, and with a stack of review screeners growing moss on the end table in my TV room, I decided that it was time to take action. I grabbed the phone, flipped through the address book, and called the only person who could possibly help me review the Lifetime original movie Baby for Sale. While I was waiting, I popped some popcorn and checked the fridge. Beer? Check. Hot dogs and leftover chili? Check. Within a half an hour, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and standing there, with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, clutching a bag of Sun Chips, was Jody the Demon Pig.
I had always suspected that Jody was a big fan of Lifetime movies; he (she? it?) may not like George very much, but Jody just can't get enough of Nancy McKeon and Rue McClanahan. Even living representations of evil need a good cry every now and then, right? My suspicions were confirmed when I happened to see Jody skulking around the local Best Buy with Homeless to Harvard, Gracie's Choice, and She's Too Young clutched in her (his? its?) adorable little demonic hooves.
Baby for Sale is a terribly melodramatic movie that's "inspired by a true story." It tells the tale of Nathalie and Dr. Steve Johnson, played by Dana Delany (China Beach) and Hart Bochner (Supergirl), who cannot seem to get pregnant. They try all the time, which is fun, but never seem to get anywhere, which is a bummer. Why is it always that way? The smart, pretty, successful people are always the ones who can't seem to reproduce (at least on TV), but the slack-jawed, dead-eyed morons of the world seem to breed like friggin' rabbits. It's in complete defiance of Darwin. Eventually, Nathalie gets sick of the sight of her husband and can't stand his touch (okay, I'm exaggerating) and they decide to adopt a baby. I'm pretty sure that Steve really wanted a puppy, since he already has a kid, but Natalie has her heart set on her own kid. She meets with one teenage girl who is afraid of labor pains and started smoking to keep the baby as small as possible. After being rejected by this junior genius, Nathalie suspects that it may be difficult to find a baby using conventional methods. She does a quick internet search and finds an outfit called—I kid you not (no pun intended)—"Adoptions-Are-Us."
"Should have used Ebaby," said Jody, guzzling beer.
The Johnsons are from Minnesota, but they don't talk like the people in Fargo. They don't look like those people, either—they actually look like refugees from a Lands' End catalog. Now, I should point out that we don't know why Steve wasn't able to, ah, fill Nathalie's needs. Was the good doctor shooting blanks? Had cell phone radiation or something destroyed his package? Or was Natalie simply as barren as the inside of Cynthia McKinney's skull? Whatever the case, Nathalie was tired of waiting. No doubt in awe of the service's classy-sounding name, Nathalie fills out the convenient online registration. Within a matter of minutes, just long enough for Nathalie to drool over her friend's obnoxiously cute toddler, she gets a phone call. That first one doesn't pan out, but later the couple gets an e-mail with a picture of the baby of Nathalie's dream: a little Hungarian girl named Gitta.
"That baby scares me," said Jody, with a shiver. "I want to eat it."
I had to agree; not with the bit about eating the thing, but about it being scary. Babies are universally hideous. People always coo over them and talk in absurd nonsensical sentence fragments, but it's all really just to disguise the swell of horror that the average person feels when confronted with one of these terrifying drool machines. Gitta is no exception. With her great, blank eyes and drooling mouth, she looks like a rabid shaved monkey or some sort of terrible hairless zombie muskrat alien. But Nathalie falls right in love with the little horror and, after a few words of caution from their lawyer, they head off to New York to stake a claim on little Gitta. But it seems that they weren't the only ones.
A sleazy Hungarian lawyer named Gabor Szabo (Bruce Ramsay) is using Gitta as the prize in a dastardly auction. He gives Gitta to the Johnsons just long enough for them to grow attached to her, but not long enough for her to lay facehugger eggs or eat the Johnsons' brains or something. Then he takes the baby away and shows her to another family. They, too, fall under the hypnotic spell of the horrific Gitta. When Szabo returns to the Johnsons—without Gitta—they suspect that something is amiss. They know it when Szabo demands $100,000 from them before he turns the baby over to them.
"What did they expect?" wondered Jody aloud, wiping the remains of a chili dog from his (her? its?) snout. "They found this guy over the internet. He talks like Bela Lugosi, for cryin' out loud."
It's true. Szabo is pretty creepy. The Johnsons think so too, and leave in an indignant huff, because they can't find a cab, and the indignant huff is the only thing that will give them a lift to the airport. But the idea of baby selling doesn't sit well with them, so they go to their lawyer, who sends them to an FBI agent. The FBI agent seems to have more important things to do than stop creepy Dracula-like lawyers from selling small children at blowout prices. Which is why the Superfriends are way cooler than the FBI. The Superfriends would have gone to New York right away and gotten hit with a purple ray that turned them all into bagels or something while Aquaman stood around uselessly and the rest of the team punched Szabo in the face repeatedly. There would have been none of this namby-pamby whining about jurisdiction and baby selling not being against the law.
"I can't believe that it's not a federal crime to try to sell something as repugnant as that baby," said Jody.
Again, Jody's razor-sharp demonic piggy brain had cut to the heart of the matter. Since baby brokering was shady but not technically illegal (amounting to little more than a misdemeanor), there was little that the authorities could do about it. Still, the FBI agent agrees to call the NYPD and see if there's anything they can do. Then it turns out that a pair of New York cops, Joey Perrotta (Romano Orzari) and Laura Jackson (Claudia Besso), have been after Szabo for some time. They enlist the Johnsons in a very Kojak-esque scheme to trap the oily lawyer by going through with the sale. Although Steve has some reservations, they eventually agree and return to the Big Apple to put Szabo out of business once and for all. To that end, the NYPD rigs the couple's hotel room with miles of wiring and electronic surveillance gear and sets up a new meeting with the baby broker so that they can pounce on him as he leaves with the bag full of loot. After some complications, they do exactly that.
The police also arrest Gitta's mother, so that Nathalie can have tearful moments with her over the baby in the ironically contrasting cold environs of the police interrogation room. Gitta's mother was living in a movie slum set that was conveniently located in Queens. As part of the complications I mentioned earlier, the Johnsons had to go there with Szabo to get little Gitta. One of the movie's most unintentionally humorous moments had Steve realize where they were—and he's not too happy about it. "Look at where we are," he says, tersely. Then the camera shows several stock homeless and hopeless types, a wino, couple of hookers, you know what I mean. Haggard, toothless, dirty people with rags for clothing and various addictions. What Hollywood thinks that all poor people look like down in the ghet-toh. In any case, being around poor people creeps Steve out a lot more than baby selling, and he almost spoils the bust, but plucky and resourceful Nathalie forges through nonetheless.
The movie ends as only a Lifetime movie could. Szabo is trapped, and a bit of legal legerdemain makes sure he'll stay behind bars. Then it's up to the courts to decide who gets custody of Gitta. Gitta's mom wants her back, the Hungarian government wants her back, New York Social Services wants to keep her with a foster family, and of course the Johnsons are staking a claim, too. The judge, when faced with these conflicting claims, has a difficult decision to make. Then Nathalie stands up and makes a short, tearful speech, and the most amazing thing happens. The judge, in essence, throws up her hands, says, "The hell with it!" and in complete disregard for anything that can be called adherence to the law or legal precedent, decides on the spot to give Gitta to the Johnsons. Even more astoundingly, the other claimants just sort of shrug and say, "Oh, well. That's life, I suppose," and then the judge pulls out a letter from Gitta's mom written in adorable broken English that gives custody of Gitta to the Johnsons, too.
"What the hell was that?" said Jody, throwing a beer can at the TV.
That, I said, was the scriptwriter's sudden realization that they were running out of time really quickly and needed to wrap things up in a hurry. So all ends well: Szabo gets taken off to make some 6' 7" inmate named Horndog real happy; Gitta's mom gets deported back to Hungary and is reunited with her other children; politicians are awakened from their slumber long enough to make selling babies a felony; and I don't think I'm spoiling anything for anybody when I tell you that the Johnsons get to keep that horrific little child. It's a nice, simple, heartwarming ending—which is exactly what you'd expect from a Lifetime movie.
The film was rather mediocre, but it sure does look good. Lifetime offers this presentation with a gorgeous picture, a nice transfer that looks better than most theatrical releases do; coupled with the great surround sound mix, this is a great DVD from the technical viewpoint at least. Lifetime has also seen fit to include a few extras; there's an extensive interview featurette with the cast and the filmmakers, as well as a rather short and pointless deleted scene. Plus, there are some preview attractions for other Lifetime movies coming soon to DVD. Great.
"I just want to know when Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? is coming to DVD," said Jody.
So do I, Jody. So do I. But Baby For Sale wasn't so bad, either. If you can't get enough Lifetime, or if you're simply feeling bloated and hormonal, then this is just the thing for you. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "A Look at Baby For Sale" Featurette
Review content copyright © 2005 Maurice Cobbs; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.