United States. 83 minutes (Netflix streaming version*). Directed by John Hough, 2002. Starring Patsy Kensit, Patrick Muldoon, Amy Locane, Amy Huberman, Patrick Joseph Byrnes.
Psychiatrist Trey Campbell prepares to go on vacation with his wife and daughter, a last-ditch attempt to repair his failing marriage. Things take a turn for the worse when Maureen Hatcher, a psychotic patient of Campbell’s confined to a mental hospital, escapes with the intent of tracking the doctor and his family down. Part of Hatcher’s delusion is that, in a past life, she and Campbell–who was Jack the Ripper–were lovers, and she’s willing to go to some extreme lengths to make Campbell accept his past, so they can finally be together again.
Idiocy is the order of the day in Bad Karma, a particularly feeble attempt at a psych-thriller based on a novel by Douglas Clegg. I was under the impression that Clegg is a respected horror author, so I sincerely hope that this film isn’t particularly faithful to the source material.
The story itself is a prime example of the “idiot plot”: a series of events which is largely possible because just about every character in the story is a moron. If any of the main characters stopped for just one second and considers just how stupid his or her behavior is, and corrected accordingly, the entire plot would fall down like a house of cards. Befopre going on vacation, Dr. Campbell gives the shrink who’ll be covering for him a sternly-worded, ambiguity-free warning of what a dangerous psychotic Maureen Hatcher is and how not to behave around her, particularly not to allow her to get into his head. One Campbell is out of the office, the colleague manages to allow Hatcher to manipulate him into molesting her, which is what allows her to escape.
Luckily for Hatcher, security is so lax at the hospital that she manages to kill a psychiatric staff member and a security guard sometime in the afternoon, but their bodies are not discovered until well after dark, and nobody thinks to contact Campbell (let’s remember that Hatcher is a dangerous psychotic who’s obsessed with him) and tell him the news until the next morning. Not that Hatcher is all that bright herself: instead of heading immediately to Campbell’s vacation paradise (the address and phone number of which she found on a scrap of paper in his office, before she escaped), she spends the entire night seducing a lonely lesbian as part of a ridiculous scheme to convince the authorities that she died in a car accident.
But the characters aren’t the only dipshits on display here: the screenplay is riddled with plot holes, logical inconsistencies and other flaws. My personal favorite: the police detective who’s assigned to the murders of the hospital employees also happens to have an office on the resort island where the Campbells are staying, even though it can take as long as three hours to get between the locations depending on the ferry schedule. The overall characterization is weak and the story relies on too many clichéd themes (oh look, it’s the professional who’s married to his job and neglects his family!) that it can’t do anything good with.
So yeah, between the characters, the plotting and the story, the stupidity on display boggles the brain. A lot of this could have been, if not actually forgiven, then at least glossed over if the other aspects of the production were at least adequate, but they’re not, with everyone putting in the barest minimum amount of effort needed to get the work done. The most convincing performance comes from the kid playing the Campbells’ five-year-old daughter, and that’s never a good sign. While the film takes place in New England, it looks like it was shot in Ireland, which is in fact the case. And let’s not forget the bad dubbing of the Irish-accented cast members.
Bad Karma is tailor-made for the MST3K treatment: just add a well-stocked bar and some witty friends and you’ve got a night’s entertainment. But that’s the only worth it holds, and should not in any way be seen as a serious attempt at filmmaking.
* Note: the version of this film on Netflix Instant appears to be missing a prologue that was filmed after the main production was completed, directed by a different director, starring a completely different ensemble, and possibly filling in some backstory.