Decidedly old-fashioned, “Custody” brings to mind those movies the broadcast networks used to make to showcase (and throw a little extra cash at) their series stars. Given that said performers here ply their trade elsewhere, there’s less reason for this thinly drawn drama to exist, though Rob Morrow, James Denton and Kay Panabaker get the most out of the modest premise, exploring the age- (really, really) old question of whether nature or nurture determines what makes a parent. Think of it as a modest throwback for those too lazy to rent “Kramer v. Kramer.”
Amanda (Panabaker) seems like a happy-enough 13 year old, being raised by her college prof dad David (Morrow) after her mom died when she was 6. All her assumptions are quickly upended, however, when rich entrepreneur John (Denton) waltzes into her life, revealing that he is in fact her father, having been married to mom before her stepdad was.
At first wowed by John’s wealth — ooh, private planes and ritzy hotel rooms — Amanda’s bonds to David will be tested when John eventually sues for custody. Yet as constructed by director Nadia Tass and writer Kathy Kloves, there’s not enough depth here to provide much insight into any of the principals’ motivations or to foster suspense about Amanda’s loyalties and the ultimate payoff.
Granted, the issue of biology versus actually being there to raise a child remains an evergreen, but it’s been dealt with so many times in movies and TV (“Losing Isaiah” comes to mind, and that was a dozen years ago) it’s puzzling why Lifetime would revisit the topic only to put so little new on the table. Nor is this much of a stretch for the leads — Morrow as the slightly dweeby professor, Denton the impeccably dressed mogul — though credit them with giving the material their all.
While “Custody” isn’t necessarily bad, then, it’s so inconsequential as to fail the test inherent in the story itself — namely, if somebody tried to take this movie away, it’s hard to imagine anybody petitioning to stop them.