Judge Harold Gervais is not the man he claims to be.
Con man. Husband. Kidnapper.
George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) was on some talk show some time in the 1990s where he described the Lifetime Network as "the weepy chick network" and for some reason Wendt's off-the-cuff remark from twenty odd years ago was the first thing that popped in my head when I opened the package and found Lifetime TV's original movie, Who Is Clark Rockefeller? waiting for me. Read into that what you will.
Facts of the Case
Based on a true story, Who Is Clark Rockefeller? is the tale of Christian Gerhartseiter, a German man who came to the United States and assumed numerous identities. While using the name Clark Rockefeller he met and married a Harvard business graduate named Sandra Boss. Together they had a child, Reigh Boss, and in July of 2008 Gerhartseiter kidnapped his daughter. Six days later both father and child were found. This is their story. Sorry. I thought I was writing up an episode of Law and Order for a second.
Cable networks are increasingly niche driven and few cable channels have displayed an ability over the years to understand their demographic better than Lifetime. Indeed Lifetime has made many a career by focusing harder and harder at being the best it can be at what women want to see. So the story ripped from the newspaper headlines of Clark Rockefeller aka Christian Gerhartseiter and his wife Sandra Boss would appear to be pitch perfect for the cable outfit. And as a story it is. As a film, less so. First the parts that work; original E.R. cast member Sherry Stringfield really is quite good as Sandra Boss. She brings the desperation & confusion inherent to the situation as well as warmth and a sense of humor in creating Boss, making her character a compelling heroine and a person the audience can relate to. As the apple of both father and mother, young Emily Alyn Lind isn't bad either as Reign "Snooks" Boss and thankfully Lind never falls into the kid-on-TV trap of being too cute or coy. On the production end director Mikael Salomon brings a cinematographer's eye for detail and keeps the film moving along at a good pace.
Even the screenplay from Edithe Swenson surprises as it doesn't allow the weight of the facts & the requirements of a Lifetime original movie to collapse onto itself. Sure Stringfield's character is forced to state the obvious more often than she should, and yes, Rockefeller pulls the wool over her eyes way too easily, but all things considered, the screenplay does what it needs to and often does it better than expected. Production design and costumes were also pretty strong for a television movie, so all in all Who Is Clark Rockefeller? should be a pleasant and unexpected discovery, right? Again with the not so much.
Will and Grace lead Eric McCormack stars as the infamous conman and I honestly have no idea what McCormack thought he was doing when he was making this movie. His performance would be much more at home in a dinner theater production of a Noel Coward play than it is here. His effete, effeminate and insincere take on the character does no one any favors and is jaw dropping in its camp value. It is as if McCormack walked out of Private Lives and stepped right into Who Is Clark Rockefeller?. There are in fact several moments during the film where Stringfield almost looks thrown by what McCormack is doing and from this vantage point, that is never a good sign. The clearest picture I can paint is imagine if Cesar Romero, in full Joker make-up, entered Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins set unannounced and they kept filming. It's really that kind of bizarre. I don't know if McCormack and Salomon were going for a Jeremy Irons kind of vibe from Reversal of Fortune but whatever it is they were after, it doesn't work and it pulls an otherwise decently made and watchable movie down the toilet and into the depths of awful. I expect a RiffTrax version any day now.
For their part Sony delivers up a clean looking and sounding DVD package. The image is the television standard 1.78:1 aspect ratio and it's anamorphic. Colors are well saturated, detail is on the strong side and black levels are more than acceptable. The source material displays no flaws, so thumbs up there. Sound is of the 5.1 variety and it's presented in both English & Portuguese. Why Portuguese? Why not. Snark aside, and believe me keeping my snark to the side has been tough, Who Is Clark Rockefeller? features a pretty good audio mix. Dialogue is easily made out and there is even some activity from the rear speakers. For the subtitles Sony gives us a choice of either English and again, Portuguese. The movie is presented free of extras.
Lifetime knows its audience and everything about Who Is Clark Rockefeller? is tailored to be a crowd pleaser for them. Everything except it's central character. Which is really kind of a shame because there is a decent movie lurking around when McCormack isn't hamming it up. There really isn't that much else to say except that Wendt is still right after all these years.
If the Fletch film franchise ever
gets going again, Eric McCormack might well use this movie, and the DVD artwork,
as his audition packet. Otherwise McCormack is found guilty of wasting
everyone's time with a horribly ill-conceived performance.
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