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Scott Pierce: 'Escape from Polygamy' is hilariously terrible

Published August 21, 2013 8:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. In the case of the Lifetime movie "Escape From Polygamy," a little bit of knowledge about plural marriage and fundamentalist Mormons translates into a rather silly teleflick that's part Nicholas Sparks schmaltz and part "Trapped by the Mormons" craziness.

It's hilariously terrible.

Oh my heck, the prophet's name is Ervil Barlowe. That alone will make locals grin.

"Escape from Polygamy" (Saturday, 6 and 10 p.m., Lifetime) is a teen romance wrapped in a sort of a cartoonlike reality. Like … Ervil Barlowe (William Mapother) comes across as Dudley Do-Right's nemesis, Snidely Whiplash.

As the movie opens, Leann Christensen (Mary McCormack), a recent widow, is about to meet the new husband she's been assigned by the prophet. Her 17-year-old daughter, Julina (Haley Lu Richardson), isn't particularly happy about moving to a new compound, which happens to be in the middle of the desert someplace.

Throughout the show, there are other Utah references including Springdale, Bountiful, St. George, Salt Lake, Mesquite and Interstate 15.

Things get going when Julina meets super-hunky Ryder (Jack Falahee). They fall instantly in love, and the level of ludicrous ramps up considerably.

Turns out Ryder is the prophet's son. And the prophet has designs on Julina. So Ryder is quickly left in the desert and makes his way to Las Vegas, where he becomes the latest in a long list of the lost boys.

In real life, all of this would be tragic. But under the direction of Rachel Lee Goldenberg (whose credits are mostly comedy shorts) and from a script by Damon Hill (whose credits consist of episodes of "Greek" and Tori Spelling's sitcom "So NoTORIous"), "Escape from Polygamy" is a hamfisted joke.

Even ignoring all the polygamy stuff, it's unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny. Like the scene at the square dance when everyone but Ryder and Julina disappears while the youngsters dance. Or this exchange:

"I can't stop thinking about that kiss," Ryder says.

"It's a sin," Julina replies.

"So let me sin again," Ryder says.

Aaack! It's never a good thing when what's supposed to be a serious effort quickly becomes self-parody.

The TV movie's final segments parody "Romeo and Juliet," sort of. The series of events are so insane you have to laugh — because your only alternative is to mutter in disgust.

Somebody might make a good movie about escape from polygamy someday. Somebody might actually research the topic before filming begins.

The bar has been set so low by "Escape from Polygamy" that any future filmmaker will look good by comparison.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.