For those who wish Erin Brockovich could make a visit to their home once a week, Lifetime has created “Wild Card.” Starring Joely Fisher as a fish-out-of-water Las Vegas blackjack dealer who moves home to take care of her sister’s kids after a fatal car accident, skein provides a heavy load of melodrama. But don’t worry, this is Lifetime, and the feisty girl always wins in the end.
Fisher (“Ellen”) shows her comic chops and is most engaging in the early Sin City scenes, playing a quirky chatterbox with no filter between her brain and mouth. When she returns to suburban Chicago to act as guardian, however, the bitter part of this bittersweet tale comes to the forefront and thesp is forced to put aside the charm in order to react to the kids’ crisis du jour.
The script of Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick (“Knots Landing”) breaks no new ground. Taylor (Vikki Krinsky), 16, is sneaking around with college boys. Clifford (Devin Drewitz), 12, is drowning out life with his headphones, and 8-year-old Hannah (Aislinn Paul) can’t make up her mind if she wants to be Harriet Tubman or Joan of Arc for her school’s tribute to heroes.
Their father skipped out years ago, so what’s a newly minted single mom to do? Well, what other TV heroines in her place have done countless times before: suck it up and make sure each kid learns their lesson before the hour is over.
Complicating matters on the home front is Zoe’s suspicion that her always cautious sister wasn’t at fault in the crash that took her life, despite what the cops say. With more than a little moxie, she teams up with insurance sleuths Sophia (Rae Dawn Chong) and Dan (Chris Potter), and with some Brockovich-patented witness intimidation discovers the truth of the matter and wins a job on the investigative team.
The actors do their best despite being burdened with some truly overwrought dialogue (“Somebody has got to cut me some slack. Just once in my life it has to be my turn”) and obvious plot developments — of course, there’s a hottie coach (Bronson Picket) at the school who falls for Zoe despite her descending into unwarranted hysterics the first time she sees him.
Plot cues are brought up and then dropped. Zoe mentions early on that the kids are in line for a $15,000 insurance payout if their mom is found not to be at fault for the accident — but the money is never mentioned again, in favor of emphasizing Zoe’s noble attempt at “trying to clear her sister’s name.”
It’s not until the closing minutes and after several failed attempts (again shades of Brockovich) that Zoe lands a job — and not having that 15 grand weighing heavily on her mind during that time goes against her scrappy character.
And with all the talk about traffic safety and speeding and caution behind the wheel, it’s anathema to have Zoe yammering on a cell phone while driving.
Production values are acceptable, with a sepia-toned flashback of Zoe and her sister particularly noteworthy.