“Staged Killer” — stupid title, for starters.
It’s a thriller about stalking, murderous obsession and yes TV RATINGS in the live streaming era.
But don’t go looking for a dark, daft reboot of “To Die For,” the movie that made Nicole Kidman’s awards-contender reputation. The writing, acting and directing aren’t up to that, not that anybody concerned had the good sense to take things in that direction, anyway.
For a movie set in the cutthroat world of daytime TV, this is “Murder, She Wrote” mild-mannered. Ask Grandma about that show, kids. Ancient TV history. Hell, ask her about “To Die For,” too. That came out in 1995.
Naomi and Jake (Chrishell Hartley, Jason Dolley) were college CCTV show co-hosts, back in the day. That ended when Naomi’s new jock boyfriend died a horrible death.
Think Jake might’ve done it? Think he’s obsessed? Think he’s gotten over that obsession “10 Years Later?”
Naomi is now a morning chat show co-hostess with an older, dorkier co-host (Charlie O’Connell) holding her back. Jake? He just was let go from a job in Florida.
And even though she’s in Buffalo and happily married (Darrin Dewitt Henson), Jake figures this is the perfect time to reconnect, renew the obsession. Maybe leave her a resume, which he’s gilded and redacted to get the attention of Naomi’s “bestie” and producer-boss, Scarlett (Nicole Bilderback).
A cute touch — Scarlett openly flirts with Naomi’s old college “chum.” #HerToo. A cuter touch, when her hubby gets that big promotion at the architecture firm and drops BIG hints about it’s time for her to take a few years off and start their family, Naomi’s first words are “I just can’t picture my life without the show” and her second are that wait a minute, pregnancy might be good to “help me connect with my audience” and the network’s “new target demos.”
“Mornings with Naomi & Robert” might improve in the ratings if she can play the pregnancy card.
But that’s as cynical as Naomi gets. And even though she lost her boyfriend in college and suspicious Jake was around when that happened, she thinks NOTHING of her co-host’s sudden heart attack.
Naomi is just “La di dah” clueless and “nice” as we see Jake scheming and poisoning his way to this loopy, live “Get out there” moment when Scarlett puts him on TV as Naomi’s smooth, social media-savvy co-host.
Just like that.
Lines like Naomi’s plea to husband Trent to “Promise me, nothing is ever going to take you away from me!” can only be played for laughs, these days.
And the sudden shift in the chemistry and ratings of “Mornings with…” begs for a cynical, satiric spin on conventional stalker-thriller tropes. Maybe they’re riding a ratings wave with a murderer, but they don’t want to know would have been more engrossing than “Staged.”
Naomi would have been more interesting, more fun, with a little of that Nicole Kidman shallow/mercenary “anything to be on a hit show” edge.
Everybody here is bland, with Dolley dull in playing the on-task-not-subtle Jake, Googling “date rape drugs” and “blood thinners,” getting everybody out of the way to secure his dream — Naomi and NETWORK!
An awful lot of what Netflix is acquiring in the thriller vein these days either was on Lifetime or has the feel of a woman-in-jeopardy “Lifetime Original Movie.”
“Staged Killer” isn’t even up to those standards.
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Chrishell Hartley, Nicole Bilderback, Jason Dolley, Naaji Kenn Darrin Dewitt Henson
Credits: Directed by Christopher Ray, script by Lindsay Hartley, Jason-Shane Scott. A Netflix Original.
Running time: 1:28