This two-part Lifetime movie is “presented by Vaseline Aloe Fresh,” which might be the only fresh thing found in these laborious four hours. Based on “The Starter Wife” author Gigi Levangie Grazer’s second novel, “Maneater” lacks the identifiable scorned-woman hook of that earlier production (adapted for USA), thus emerging as a rather heartless soap that unconvincingly uses Hollywood as a backdrop and squanders a reasonably impressive cast. Pic could still connect with a suds-hungry audience, but mostly patrols the shallowest ends of the chick-lit pool.
Sarah Chalke (“Scrubs”) plays the title character, Clarissa, a social-climbing thirtysomething suddenly panicked by the thought of having to support herself once her skirt-chasing dad (Gregory Harrison) stops doing so. She’s introduced sauntering into a bar and indulging in a one-night stand, complaining in narration that casual sex wasn’t really that great “if you can find your earrings and your underwear the next morning.”
Aghast at the thought of working, Clarissa’s epiphany is to rope and marry a hot movie producer, Aaron Mason (Philip Winchester, fresh off NBC’s short-lived “Crusoe”), who she promptly seduces — between some hanging out with her equally shallow gal pals and flirtations with a hunky ex — and quickly weds. Far from “happily ever after,” though, that just begins a string of headaches, heartbreaks and bizarre twists, with the last all arriving in the opening half’s last 10 minutes or so, the better to pull you into the second night.
Directed by Timothy Busfield and written by Suzanne Martin, the movie finally proves too choppy and episodic to enjoy much emotional resonance or generate a rooting interest amid Clarissa and Aaron’s blinking-light (on-off, on-off) romance. Nor does the plot provide enough material for the likes of the talented Judy Greer and Marla Sokoloff as Clarissa’s socialite pals, or Maria Conchita Alonso as her cougar-ish mom.
Chalke has exhibited a deft comic touch elsewhere, but it’s put to marginal use in a project that even at four hours feels rushed and disjointed. The supporting players, meanwhile, amount to little more than “Sex and the City”-like sounding boards, there to prod the generally unlikable Clarissa along as she plumbs new levels of emotional depth that — given where she started, uttering lines like, “I love being rich” — never prove wholly convincing.
Similarly, despite Grazer’s insider status, the Hollywood references feel little more than cosmetic, with Scottsdale serving as a poor location stand-in.
What’s left, then, is a pretty conventional soap with unappealing characters. And by the time Clarissa finally gets around to explaining it all, “Maneater” has long since chewed through whatever goodwill it might have mustered.