Frankly, a movie pitched as “Jennifer Love Hewitt plays a mom turned hooker” pretty much sells itself, which is why “The Client List” is such a pleasant surprise. Steeped in Texas atmosphere (even if it’s shot in Canada), this Lifetime satire might be the cheekiest longform offering regarding the Lonestar state since “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom” — one that comedy writer Suzanne Martin and director Eric Laneuville have infused with unexpected humor. Enrolling for this list is a pleasure, but go figure, not a guilty one.
Inspired by (and one suspects not rigidly beholden to) a true story, the movie stars Hewitt as Samantha Horton, a former beauty queen with young kids and a husband (Teddy Sears) who has lost his construction gig. Desperate to avoid foreclosure, the unemployed massage therapist applies for work at the Kind Touch Health Spa, only to discover the touching is a bit kinder than she anticipated.
After some moral bargaining with the little angel figurine on her dashboard, Samantha begins to reap the rewards of this “recession-proof business,” enabling her to buy lavish gifts for her children, hubby and even judgmental mom (Cybill Shepherd, an inspired casting choice for this small role). Alas, life grows a bit more complicated when one of her grateful johns offers the tired working mom a bag of cocaine to perk her up.
Eventually, of course, the whole scheme has to go kablooey or there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, right? While there’s an undercurrent of hypocrisy throughout (as in the scene when Samantha bumps into a client at church), the second half — where she’s dragged into court, shamed by the town and pressed to name her patrons’ names — can’t quite sustain the same cheekiness level as the first.
Still, the real fun is in getting there, and acting as exec producer and star, Hewitt dives into the part with relish — gamely modeling trashy outfits and saying things in her best Texas twang like, “A girl this pretty, she’s not supposed to be poor!” One might have to reach all the way back to Lesley Ann Warren in “Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue” to achieve similar hooker-with-a-golden-heart giggles.
As for rationalizing their sinful ways, Samantha and her co-workers dryly note that the job “beats the hell out of waitressin’.” The same goes for “The Client List,” which beats the hell out of the hash that Lifetime’s movie arm generally slings.