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Family Plan (2005)

I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to made-for-cable movies. My idea of a nice weekend is waking up, turning on the Sci-Fi Channel, and watching 40 low-budget movies of dubious quality in a row. Maybe I’ll switch it up and turn on ABC Family or the Hallmark Channel in the evening to see what kind of goofy romantic comedies they have going. If none of these channels are playing movies, I’ll scroll through the digital cable guide until I find something.

These movies are, by and large, mindless entertainment. If I have to get off my lazy ass to run an errand or take a phone call or generally pretend like I’m interested in a life outside of made-for-cable movies, I can leave in the middle of the movie and come back for the end without feeling like I’ve really missed anything. Or I can pick up another movie after missing the first act and—this is actually really fun (P.S.: I’m a nerd)—try to piece together the setup based on the second and third acts.

But the best thing about these movies? The actual setup. At their core, these movies are just new spins on old stories, but it’s always nice to watch the set-‘em-up-and-knock-‘em-down structure at work. Everything you need to know about the movie is established in the first 20-30 minutes. After that, you could stop watching and know how it ends, but the filmmakers always know that. They frontload it with setup and then meander a bit with the plot twists and the wacky developments before giving us the inevitable conclusion.

Family Plan stays true to the made-for-cable spirit with its setup. Tori Spelling (Beverly Hills, 90210) stars as a marketing executive who, taking the misguided advice of her wacky best friend (the hilarious Kali Rocha, who had a few memorable guest spots on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer a few years back), pretends to be married to impress her new boss (Greg Germann of Ally McBeal). Germann wants to promote her, but it hinges on him meeting her family. Spelling scrambles to find a family on short notice when Rocha (whose character is a suspiciously smooth liar) comes up with a solution: Spelling can borrow Rocha’s house and daughter for the evening, and then all they need to do is find a husband. But how?

Enter the underrated and hilarious Jon Polito as a sleazy talent agent. His scenes are wall-to-wall comedy gold, from the moment he suggests his potential husbands reenact the Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter to the selection of actors he has selected to play Spelling’s husband for a night. Spelling is unhappy with the choices until dashing and amusing Jordan Bridges waltzes into Polito’s office to demand his payment. He gets the gig, and a web of lies begins.

You see, the house next door to Rocha is available for rent. Germann, impressed with the neighborhood and pleased that the house butts up against a golf course, decides to rent the house while his new home undergoes renovations. So Spelling, Bridges, and Rocha’s daughter (played by the overly precocious Abigail Breslin) are forced to continue the family charade for the rest of the movie. Ironically, Spelling and Bridges actually fall in love. Well, it would be more ironic if it weren’t obvious from the moment they lay eyes on each other. But it still works, for the most part.

They gradually ease into the part of husband and wife and by the time everything gets screwed up (Germann and his wife see Bridges in a commercial), they’re in love. From there, it’s the straightforward happy ending you’d expect after the first act. What’s always important about these movies is the second act: what happens between the obvious setup and obvious conclusion, and is it worth your time?

Family Plan isn’t the greatest made-for-cable movie available, but it works if you enjoy these movies as much as I do (if not, your mileage may vary). Polito and Rocha are scene-stealers. Germann always manages to have a way of delivering his lines like he’s just thinking of them, like a real person would. Spelling, who I’ve never seen in anything before (I, unfortunately, missed out on the 90210 craze), is better than I thought she’d be without really being outstanding. The real find here is Jordan Bridges (Beau’s son). He’s charming, funny, and easygoing at the outset, but as he gradually realizes Spelling is only interested in her career, he’s surprising and effective at playing wounded and vulnerable. Like the best of these movies, the cast makes the material work better than it probably should.

Family Plan is a solid made-for-cable romantic-comedy. It doesn’t quite transcend its station in life like the underrated S.S. Doomtrooper or I Want to Marry Ryan Banks, but it’s closer to those movies than it is to, say, the awful Haunted Prison.

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