Lifetime Review: 'Abducted on Air'
Lifetime takes a cynical look at the world of TV journalism in this strong mystery hampered by sluggish pacing.
Ever since she was a child, Sasha Bruder (Kim Shaw) has dreamed of being a news reporter covering hard-hitting stories. But at Cable 4 News, Sasha finds herself underappreciated by her boss Gavin (Bruce Dinsmore) and outshined by veteran reporter Diane Baldwin (Perrey Reeves). Willing to do anything to ensure her dream becomes reality, Sasha resorts to an unimaginable extreme: she fakes her own abduction, colluding with her lover Aidan Ferguson (Gord Rand) to do so.
Sasha's plan initially appears to be a foolproof one, and following her "daring escape from captivity", Sasha becomes the new star of Cable 4 and earns Gavin's respect--and Diane's envy. But as Sasha begins to revel in her newfound career success, it become clear that things are about to get complicated for Cable 4's new ratings darling. How far is Sasha prepared to go to see her ambitions realized?
Ironically, Abducted on Air (originally titled The Lead) shares both an actor in common with fellow Incendo film Separated at Birth (Gord Rand) as well as a flaw: dull pacing. While Abducted on Air has a drama-heavy plot given its setting in the often chaotic realm of journalism, there are portions of the film where it feels as though the compelling mystery is being stretched out without reason--a problem that becomes far more visible in the third act when the snail-like pacing drags the action to a stall. But where the film stumbles in regards to pace, it makes up for with a twisted mystery that keeps you on your toes and well-written characters that do the same.
In another similar vein to Separated at Birth, Abducted on Air focuses on a set of characters that are kept in a perpetual state of moral ambiguity. In addition to the obvious antagonists of the story (Sasha and Aidan), almost every other character involved in the drama surrounding Cable 4 News has shades of grey that makes you wonder which side of the morality scale they belong to. Diane Baldwin exemplifies this the strongest of the film's characters, as in a more standard Lifetime film, she would be the clear-cut protagonist against antagonist Sasha.
But thanks to the well-written script and Perrey Reeves' performance, you find yourself wondering if Diane is really any better than Sasha at the end of the day. Is her sleuthing into Sasha's suspicious kidnapping an attempt at bringing the truth to light, or is her sole concern getting back her status as the star of Cable 4 News? This moral ambiguity is also present in Gavin, Aidan, and even to a lesser degree in Aidan's wife Jocelyn, with all three of their players (Bruce Dinsmore, Gord Rand, and Kristin Booth) giving strong performances that bring these layers of their characters to fruition. Marc Bendavid caps off the film's primary cast as Cable 4 News employee Alex Peterson, who stands out as the film's sole fully likable character, with Bendavid's strong performance as the sweet-natured Alex giving his entanglement in Sasha's scheme an understated sense of tragedy.
A slight flaw in characterization, however, comes in the film's attempts at humanizing Sasha Bruder. While the attempts aren't at a My Husband's Secret Twin level of frustrating, the efforts still feel out of place in a film that otherwise paints Sasha as nothing more than a manipulative and heartless opportunist willing to hurt anyone to fulfill her self-aggrandizing ambitions. Scenes of Sasha with her catatonic father fail to make much impact, and even though Kim Shaw delivers in a brief emotional scene Sasha has alone, it still feels out of place given how Sasha behaves for the rest of the film. Apart from these bungles, Shaw gives a stellar performance when the film allows her to revel in Sasha's selfishness and arrogance, making for a compelling love-to-hate villainess you enjoy seeing begin to crack as her perfect plan begins to crumble.
As competently as Abducted on Air is written and acted, the way the action gets bogged down by unnecessarily stretched-out scenes is sure to irritate viewers--especially when the pacing issues become more noticeable in the final act, when the action should be rising, not plateauing. But while this and aforementioned flubs in characterization serve to diminish the film, Abducted on Air's strong script, well-written characters with actors that know how to play them, and a worth-the-wait finale that ties everything up nicely all prove effective at helping to alleviate the tedious pace that might otherwise push viewers away. Plus, it's Lifetime at its most cynical, a tone which the snarkier of Lifetime's audience are sure to relish in.
Score: 6 out of 10 sleeping pills.