Lifetime Movie Network is following its elder sibling into the true-crime, “women who make bad choices” business, with back-to-back Ann Rule adaptations beginning with her book “Too Late to Say Goodbye.” Literally opening with a bang, the movie stars Rob Lowe as another in a line of potentially nefarious charmers who woo women, then betray or kill them (and usually both). The narrative proves a trifle jumbled, but the mystery is tawdry enough to hang onto an audience that makes bad programming choices and thus can’t say goodbye to such fluff.
In the opening scene, pretty Jenn Barber-Corbin (Stephanie Von Pfetten) succumbs to a gunshot. But was it a suicide — as the crime scene indicates — or an elaborate murder orchestrated by her controlling husband Bart (Lowe), a local dentist with his own set of dazzling pearly whites?
While a detective (“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” alum Michelle Hurd) delves into the case and Jenn’s sister (Lauren Holly) presses the investigation — unwilling to believe Jenn took her own life — the movie flashes back to the start of Jenn and Bart’s relationship. We see him seduce her and her family with slick Southern charm (the story is set in Atlanta), but soon there are nagging doubts that he’s cheating on her, even as the probe into Jenn’s death raises questions about Bart’s past interactions with women.
As directed by Norma Bailey from a script credited to three writers, the storytelling proves as fitful and uneven as Lowe’s Southern accent. Much of it amounts to killing time until the plot reveals whether Bart is a shrewd psychopath in a pretty package or, as his protestations suggest, merely an indignant husband, falsely accused.
The formula for this thin gruel certainly isn’t hard to figure: Place a recognizable actor in the kind of vehicle that not so very long ago dominated Sunday evenings on the major networks. Lifetime’s movie channel will follow “Too Late to Say Goodbye” with another Rule melodrama, the two-part “Everything She Ever Wanted,” billed as “a nightmare marriage that is ultimately upended by greed and violence.”
So while little girls might be weaned on princess fare, after living a little, they wind up watching movies like these — the grown-up counterweight to “And they lived happily ever after.”