Two Dramas from Sony
The Client List (February 2/11)
Inspired by true events, The Client List follows happily married couple Rex (Teddy Sears) and Samantha (Jennifer Love Hewitt) as they find themselves scrambling to save their home after the bank threatens foreclosure - with Samantha's initial efforts at finding a job falling completely flat. The former beauty queen eventually lands a gig as a massage therapist at a spa on the outskirts of town, but soon discovers that she'll be expected to provide more than just a chaste rubdown for her clients. Samantha's initial horror quickly gives way to acceptance, and it's not long before she's buying elaborate gifts for her family and paying off her many bills - though, as expected, there inevitably reaches a point at which everything comes crashing down. Director Eric Laneuville, working from a script by Suzanne Martin, has infused The Client List with a terminally simplistic sensibility that's reflected in everything from its performances to its plot twists to its eye-rolling upbeat resolution, with the less-than-subtle atmosphere exacerbated by a narrative that unfolds exactly as one might've expected. And although the movie does boast one or two admittedly effective sequences - ie Samantha's initial conversation with Rex after her salacious secret is revealed - The Client List is a predictable and almost distractingly one-note Lifetime drama that seems to have been geared exclusively towards the lowest common denominator - which is a shame, really, given that Hewitt does deliver a surprisingly compelling performance.
Welcome to the Rileys (February 4/11)
Welcome to the Rileys casts James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo as Doug and Lois Riley - a married couple who've been struggling since the death of their 15-year-old daughter several years earlier. (He has taken comfort in the arms of a local waitress, while she's long since succumbed to a full-blown case of agoraphobia.) While on a business trip in New Orleans, Doug meets and befriends a damaged young stripper named Mallory (Kristen Stewart) - with the film subsequently detailing the prickly bond that inevitably ensues between the disparate characters. Though saddled with a premise that could only exist in a movie, Welcome to the Rileys ultimately comes off as a consistently watchable piece of work that benefits substantially from its stellar performances - with Gandolfini's captivatingly low-key work matched by both Leo and Stewart, with the latter effortlessly shedding her Twilight persona to convincingly become an ill-tempered, foul-mouthed teenager. The decidedly implausible nature of Doug and Mallory's relationship is, as a result, not as problematic as one might have expected, and it's ultimately clear that the pair's father-figure/surrogate-daughter connection provides Welcome to the Rileys with its heart and even ensures that the film packs a (mild) emotional punch at its conclusion. And although it's clear that the movie would've benefited from a little judicious editing (ie the slight storyline demands a shorter running time), Welcome to the Rileys is a stirring drama that offers each of its three stars ample opportunity to shine.