Some of us in the reviewing trade have beaten the put-down “Lifetime Original Movie” to death. To which I shout “GUILTY!”
But it’s a hard descriptor to shake when it so vividly captures a female-centered romance or woman-under-threat melodrama, once the bread and butter of cable’s “Women’s Channel.”
Does the label work for Netflix’s “Holiday in the Wild,” which pairs up the always-winsome Kristin Davis as a divorcing veterinarian who meets a womanizing bush pilot (Rob Lowe) while on safari in Zambia?
Or is it “Sex in the Serengeti?” Take a wild guess.
“Holiday in the Wild” has a briskness I appreciated, even if that means it rather rushes us and Kate (Davis) into a divorce that upends her Manhattan penthouse marriage, if not her lifestyle. And Lowe and Davis and the African scenery and setting — a nursery for orphaned baby elephants — ensures a certain charm.
Then the whole “holiday” part of it all, complete with African versions of famous Christmas carols and the usual “stop shopping and consider what’s REALLY important” messaging kicks in and the charm is smothered under a heaping helping of treacle.
Kate barely has time to grit her teeth over becoming one of the “ladies who lunch,” and no time to even finish her pitch for a “second honeymoon” African safari when her workaholic hubby (a drab cliché, drably-played by Colin Moss) blurts out “Are you happy? I’m not in love with you any more.” And “We had a lot of good years.”
With son Luke (John Owen Lowe, son of Rob) heading to college, what will Kate do?
Why, fly off to Africa, seethe over all the “honeymoon” and couple stuff set up for their resort stay, drink to forget and endure the clumsy but chaste come-ons of the stubbly hunk in the bar, Derek (Lowe).
Imagine her surprise (hers alone) when Derek Hollister turns out to be the pilot taking her on a tour of the game preserve, home to Africa’s “Big Five — elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and Cape buffalo.”
Hollister, “that’s with two ‘Ls,’ just in case you want to put in on a complaint form.”
When Derek puts his plane down near a baby elephant, freshly orphaned by poachers, “Holiday in the Wild” takes on its true mission. Dr. Kate is pressed into service at an elephant orphanage, where the charming Jonathan (Fezile Mpela) lays out the threat to the largest land mammal, and the hard work of saving the babies of parents who were killed for their ivory.
Whatever the script promises in “Out of Africa” (comic) romance terms, there’s not much to this Ernie Barbarash (“Cube Zero”) film.
The “meet cute” kind of works. Almost. Somewhat.
The obstacles to romance are pallid — and pale — a rich blonde (Hayley Owen) who funds the nursery. Nothing at all is done with this.
Romance is forgotten altogether as we’re treated to baby elephant care and its accompanying “Awwwwwwww,” and endless interruptions just as he or she is about to make her or his “move.”
A cute touch? A hilltop marker that denotes a “wi-fi hotspot” for communicating with the outside world.
Not cute? Lamer than lame puns. “Safari, so good!” “Thanks a latte!”
And the African choral treatments of familiar carols kind of works. But even the “holiday” in the title feels like a promise this moldy fruitcake of a comedy cannot keep.
The elephants are cute. Chemistry between the stars might have developed, at some point. But there’s just enough treacle here to drown the thing.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, poaching, alcohol, PG-tame language
Cast: Kristin David, Rob Lowe, Fezile Mpela and John Owen Lowe
Credits: Directed by Ernie Barbarash, script by Neal H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky. An MPCA/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:26