With a sordid “true story” of sex, violence and Mormonism tailor-made for TV-movie treatment, “Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret” makes no apologies for its obligatory exploitation. Twenty years ago, the major networks would’ve been fighting for the rights to Arias’ tawdry tale, and conflicting points of view could have inspired multiple pics à la Amy Fisher. In 2013, Lifetime has the market all to itself and the cabler should reap the ratings rewards with a timely — and undeniably trashy — take.
Not a moment was wasted bringing this quickie cash-in to the screen. “Secret” was already deep into production when a jury found Arias (played by Tania Raymonde) guilty on May 8 of first-degree murder in the brutal stabbing death of ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander (Jesse Lee Soffer).
But the 32-year-old mystery woman was convicted as a cold-hearted villain in the court of public opinion long before a formal verdict arrived, and “Secret” has no qualms about portraying Arias the way most armchair jurors already see her: as a “Fatal Attraction”-level bonkers femme fatale.
Intimate details of Arias and Alexander’s sexual relationship powered the sensationalist news coverage surrounding Arias’ trial and provide the backbone here, from the moment Arias follows Alexander into a men’s bathroom to introduce herself, through the sex marathon and naked photo shoots that preceded Alexander’s murder.
Motivational speaker Alexander is dutifully presented as a good Mormon boy conflicted by his frequent sexual encounters with Arias. At worst, he’s leading her on in a situation that will go nowhere, but the script by Richard Blaney and Gregory Small provides plenty of chances for Alexander to make it clear to Arias they don’t have a future together. There’s no hint or suggestion of the physical abuse or other accusations Arias made against Alexander in her case for self-defense during the trial.
Arias, meanwhile, mistakes their natural rapport and chemistry between the sheets for mutual affection and, as depicted, clearly becomes a woman obsessed.
After their breakup, Arias hacks into Alexander’s email to send compromising photos to his boss, slashes his tires and even breaks into his house to photograph him with chaste Mormon g.f. Katie (Leah Pipes) while they sleep.
There’s an unambiguous moralistic streak to this rendering of the story: Arias is the aggressive vixen who instinctively resorts to murder when her carnal hold over Alexander starts to fade, and Alexander tragically pays the ultimate price for his “sins.”
Outside of one relatively witty moment when Arias announces she’s decided to convert to Mormonism and then goes down on Alexander in a hot tub before reemerging in a baptismal pool, the film finds no spark in its clumsy mix of religion, sex and death. Any guilty-pleasure potential is spoiled by the unsettling aftertaste of a real person losing his life to make the movie possible.
The plentiful erotic content is tame by basic cable standards — Raymonde basically spends a lot of time prancing around in skimpy underwear. Instead, veteran “Law & Order” director Jace Alexander pulls out all the stops for a graphic murder scene in which Arias attacks Alexander in the shower, stabbing him 27 times. Too bad the eerie hints of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” only serve as a reminder there are alternate ways to adapt true-crime material.