Viewers seeking some sort of indictment against corporate greed or a cautionary tale to epitomize the recent Wall Street meltdown will certainly appreciate the Lifetime movie “The Two Mr. Kissels.” A sordid story of unbridled materialism and excess, the film is based on the real-life account of two brothers whose quick rise in the financial world was met with particularly gruesome downfalls. Racy by Lifetime standards, the pic is exactly the kind of tawdry, sexy, strange-but-true tale that makes for a juicy TV movie.
Like “American Beauty,” the story begins with the murder of the narrator (Andy Kissel, played by John Stamos). Through a series of flashbacks, documentary-like confessionals and standard plotting, viewers learn how real-estate mogul Andy and his Wall Street banker brother Rob (Anson Mount) meet their untimely deaths.
At its heart, “Kissels” is a fairly typical sibling rivalry tale. Andy and Rob spend a good deal of their lives competing for the affections of a disapproving father while measuring their successmaterially. Rob seemingly gets the upper hand first with a high-powered job on Wall Street and a social-climbing wife in Nancy (Robin Tunney). It’s not long before Andy meets the challenge with his own real-estate business and a popular TV-personality wife, Hayley (Gretchen Egolf).
Obsessed with the “ultimate F-You number” — the amount of money one needs to not to have to answer to anyone ever again — Andy and Rob live lives most only imagine.
All is good for a while as the two couples savor their bounties, buying matching Porsches and building bigger, fancier houses. Behind it all, however, are nagging needs that opulence can’t satisfy. Banker-widow Nancy starts to unravel under the drudgery of normal life and begins an affair with the cable guy while Rob toils away in Hong Kong. Andy turns to drugs and high-risk ventures to fulfill his seemingly unending need for love and approval.
The script by Marian Nation smacks of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”-like voyeurism, with a tad of message-movie empathy. But there’s very little of the latter to go around, considering that everyone here is blinded by cash. Nancy complains their lives are shallow after having carefully orchestrated every aspect of those lives. Hayley, ironically a TV financial expert, remains blind to Andy’s felonious behavior, outraged only when she becomes the victim of gossip. Meanwhile, Andy claims to want family and unity but throws it all away in favor of prostitutes and drugs.
Stylistically, the movie is all over the map. At times it feels like a black comedy and at others a true-crime mystery without a clear resolution. Still, director Ed Bianchi utilizes his actors well. Stamos and Tunney give over-the-top performances that work for the outrageous personalities they portray. Even the fancy camerawork and differing techniques reflect the ever-changing world of these pathological lives.