Being unabashedly trashy can be pretty entertaining, and Lifetime takes the plunge — a little too deeply in places — with “Beautiful & Twisted.” A ripped-from-the-headlines tale of sex and murder, this fact-based story about the comicbook-loving heir to a hotel fortune who married, and was murdered by, a stripper, is produced by and stars Rob Lowe. But it’s Paz Vega’s turn as a beyond-soap-opera femme fatale that should have people buzzing. Seemingly cognizant of its camp qualities, the movie finally can’t sustain its initial energy, and the violence proves needlessly graphic. Not that those shortcomings will detract from its ratings appeal.
Lowe plays Ben Novack Jr., who grew up surrounded by the opulence provided by his family’s ownership of Miami Beach’s Fountainebleau Hotel, and narrates his own sordid tale from beyond the grave. Like many a rich man (especially in Lifetime movies), he’s undone by an alluring woman — in this case, Vega’s Narcy, struck by the proverbial thunderbolt when he first espies her swinging on a pole.
As crafted in a script credited to a quartet of writers (among them TV-movie ace Teena Booth), working from “material” assembled by a Miami Herald reporter for a book, their exaggerated courtship is filled with moments of disarming humor. When Ben meets Narcy, for example, who introduces herself as Kitty, he responds, “What’s your name when you have your clothes on?”
Later, when Ben takes her to see his “Batman” memorabilia, Narcy strips seductively in front of the Batmobile. After that, the two are off to meet his imperious, disapproving mother (a cameo by Candice Bergen) faster than you can say “Holy Prenup!”
“We can make it short if you’re paying by the hour,” mom sneers.
Soon enough, the relationship begins to sour, displaying Narcy’s hot temper and avarice as well as the couple’s mutual jealousy. Before it’s over, Ben’s mom has met an untimely end (originally ruled an accident), and he’s taken to wearing a bulletproof vest, although he remains so smitten with Narcy he can’t resist her whenever she saunters past him.
Eventually, the cops become suspicious, as does Narcy’s daughter May (“Falling Skies’” Seychelle Gabriel plays the grownup version), whom Ben had taken under his wing.
Directed by Chris Zalla, “Beautiful & Twisted” (which, come to think of it, really could be the title for almost any Lifetime movie) revels in an exaggerated tone that makes its fidelity to the facts — or lack of same — seem less important. That starts with Vega (whose credits include “Spanglish”), who invests Narcy with an almost feline quality, oozing sexuality from every pore.
At the same time, the violence is grisly (the movie carries a disclaimer to that effect), which feels a trifle gratuitous. As for Lowe, he’s shifted from victimizer (as Scott Peterson) to victim in Lifetime’s fact-based crime category, while still managing to be as creepy as he is in those DirecTV commercials.
In a savvy strategy aimed to wring additional bang out of its TV-movie buck, Lifetime will re-air a special detailing the actual facts of the Novack story immediately after the movie.
“Beautiful & Twisted” is hardly a stretch, falling squarely within the narrow niche that Lifetime movies occupy; still, it’s an example that wedding the right talent to such material will likely yield dividends. Because while Ben and Narcy are hardly role models, as presented here, it’s fun to indulge in a couple hours of Miami-style vice.