STUDIO: Sony Pictures / Lifetime Television
MSRP: $20.95
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
• Trailers

The Pitch

Big-city cop with a tragic past takes the job of chief of police in a small Alaska town, meets a girl, blah blah blah. It’s a Lifetime movie. You can see where this is going. (No, he doesn’t fix the cable.)

“Why does the wind always tussle my hair sensually every time a man looks at me?”

The Humans

Eddie Cibrian, LeAnn Rimes, Rosanna Arquette

And you’d think this was blatantly telegraphing a surprising twist ending. Nope.

The Nutshell

Why aren’t we all trying to be Nora Roberts?

No, seriously. Nora Roberts. The maven of the romance novel. Author of nearly 190 books since 1981 — which is RIDICULOUS. And yet I’d wager that the vast majority of CHUD readers have never picked up a Nora Roberts novel — despite, according to a 2009 New Yorker profile, 27 Nora Roberts novels being sold EVERY MINUTE, and her net income nearing $60 million EVERY YEAR. Nora Roberts could buy and sell everything you love and hold dear thousands of times over (unless you’re an Avatar fan, I guess). So it’s only natural, I guess, that at least one of Roberts’ books might be adapted to film, even if by “film” I mean “special television event on the Lifetime network.”

So here we have one of these adaptations, Northern Lights, which first aired in early 2009 as a special four-week series of Nora Roberts adaptations. And I’ll be damned if I know what to tell you about it, because I doubt seriously that this was on anyone’s radar to rent or watch in any capacity, though the film did receive a degree of notoriety early last year when co-stars Eddie Cibrian and LeAnn Rimes absconded with one another, breaking up each of their marriages. So I suppose if you’re a tabloid junkie, you might have heard of this — but let’s face it, this is so far beyond the typical CHUD type of thing, I can’t think of anything to do but snark mercilessly at this poor, cheesy, terrible TV movie.

But snark I shall!

Oh, this isn’t from Northern Lights. I got this from Eddie Cibrian’s wife. *rimshot*

The Lowdown

Northern Lights is predictably terrible, and having never read a Nora Roberts novel or seen a Nora Roberts film adaptation I can’t say if it’s her fault — but Lord is it par for the course for the Lifetime movie, despite appearing to have a somewhat higher budget. The story is set in the small town of Lunacy, Alaska (“A really cool town!” says the sign at the city limit), which means that someone looked up the meaning of that word in the Oxford English Dictionary, thought it was clever, and was paid for that contribution. It’s all downhill from there.

The picture begins as a silhoutted mountain climber buries a pick-axe into another’s chest in an ominous ice cave — and no, this is nowhere near as cool as it sounds (this is a Lifetime movie. Check those expectations!). We then cross-fade to our protagonist, the new chief of police (Cibrian), as his plane lands, after which he catches the eye of a hot pilot (Rimes) whose hair magically blows in the breeze at that exact moment. This is the kind of movie we have here.

“No, I find nothing at all ominous about my good friend Mr. Silhouette McPickaxe.
We’ve known each other for years!”

Naturally the townsfolk are upset that an outsider was hired as chief of police, except for Charlene (Rosanna Arquette), the horny old innkeeper — who also happens to be LeAnn Rimes’ character’s mom! And the guy who got axed at the very beginning — her long-lost father, whose body is found, frozen, in short order.

Look, this isn’t Insomnia or anything — the murder plot is naturally a MacGuffin to get Cibrian and Rimes to make out and shit, and every bitter, distrustful character we meet throughout the course of the film is a red herring, though naturally the most obvious red herring turns out to not be a red herring at all but is of course the actual killer.

Everything’s so rote and dumb — the newspaper’s called The Lunatic (cute!), the city politicans are sketchy misers (but aren’t they all?), the mayor’s a comical lush, the cop has a trauma in his past that not only caused him to relocate but ends in a dramatic confession scene to his new love. Do I have to go on? Put it this way: picture this movie, without having seen it, and I guarantee that whatever you picture is damn close to what exists.

“What? ‘What do the lines mean?’ You didn’t want lines and pushpins on the map?
…Well, I stayed up late last night working on it, is the only thing. Look, I don’t know what you want.”

What to say about the performances? Should I say anything? Does it matter? It’s LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian, for Christ’s sake. I would suggest that Rimes should stick to music — but no, she shouldn’t. I’d say it’s sad to see Rosanna Arquette here, but frankly she’s been asking for it over the past decade.

On Cibrian’s first assignment, he has to break up a fight between two angry brothers who have come to blows over a movie argument. “Drunken Master was the best Jackie Chan movie ever!” “Rush Hour, dude!” So maybe CHUD can relate to this movie in some small way — even if we’d all, no doubt, disagree. (Cibrian’s character: “Operation Condor was his best movie.” Discuss below!)

The Package

It’s a TV movie so it looks bad, and it comes with no special features except previews for other high-quality Sony Pictures releases — like the other Nora Roberts movies, Fireproof and Faith Like Potatoes (which I once watched drunk, and highly recommend on those grounds). Nothing else, but it’s not like a loaded disc would make the shame of having this on your shelf any more bearable.

0.8 out of 10

When the northern lights failed to appear for the fourth straight night,
the townsfolk erected a giant screen and projected a video to ease their worries.
(And if this isn’t the cleverest caption in the world, well, that’s just what it looks like, isn’t it?)