Stirred and a Little Shaken: Don’t Talk to Strangers (1994)

Dave takes on a USA Network original that has more twists than a pretzel.

Writing in the Indianapolis Star, Steve Hall remarked “as the next James Bond, Pierce Brosnan can look forward to making unbelievable escapes from nasty situations. He might consider Don’t Talk to Strangers as practice, with laughable scenarios and plot holes large enough to drive an Aston Martin through.” [1]

Indeed, Brosnan had been announced as the fifth actor to play Bond only a few weeks prior to DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS debuting on the USA Network on 11th August 1994, so the station’s execs must have been rubbing their hands at the thought of a weighty Nielsen rating from its customer base of sixty-two million households. For the Irishman, Bond certainly signalled an end to delivering lines dripping in tabloid melodrama like “What kind of a mother doesn’t know when her baby dies inside her?” – but although Don’t Talk to Strangers is laced with absurdities and a pulpy artifice, it’s nevertheless the televisual equivalent of a page turner.

Shanna Reed knew the TVM formula all too well. Ten months earlier she’d taken the lead in the similarly themed Moment of Truth: Stalking Back (1993), and she was keen to tell The Fresno Bee before the premiere of her new picture just what appealed to her about her new role:

“I don’t like to be repetitive or redundant, but Don’t Talk to Strangers is another fight-for-survival story. Jane is fighting for her own survival whilst also trying to protect her child. She wants a new start, and the thing I really like about this movie is that there’s no perfect ending for her. Everything doesn’t get sewn up neatly. She’s caught in a web, and she has to make a decision to fight or flee. I’m glad that she finally chooses to fight.” [3]

The character that Reed is eulogising is Jane, a recently divorced mother of one. Hope springs eternal, though, and a rapidly blooming relationship with smooth operator Patrick (Brosnan) yields a relocation from Missouri to Connecticut – much to the annoyance of her ex, Bonner (Terry O’Quinn), who sets off in pursuit. However, at an overnight motel stop, Jane is horrified to discover that her son has been kidnapped. Blame is immediately cast on Patrick, but as the frenzied Jane digs deeper into the past indiscretions of the men in her life, she uncovers a secret that will change everything.

Shot in Vancouver during February and March ’94, Don’t Talk to Strangers has the set-up of a typical ‘based on a true story’ bit of boob tube-age before a seismic shift in tone as the halfway point approaches. Engineered by longstanding writing partners Neill D. Hicks and Jon George, it’s a dizzying bait and switch – but considering they’d previously penned Turkey Shoot (1982) for Brian Trenchard-Smith and The Final Terror (1983) for Andrew Davis, Don’t Talk to Strangers‘ descent from soap to psychopathy should come as no surprise to those in the know.

Director Robert Michael Lewis had started out at the beginning of the ‘70s, shooting episodes of The MOD Squad for ABC, and he had crossed paths with Hicks shortly before Don’t Talk to Strangers. The writer helped Lewis retool an unproduced screenplay that he’d penned with Les Green, and the resulting work, the delirious Dead Reckoning (1990), would be a good companion for this attention-holding potboiler if you were ever planning to indulge in a night of connected USA Network craziness.

USA/Canada ● 1994 ● Drama, TVM ● 93mins

Pierce Brosnan, Shanna Reed, Terry O’Quinn ● Dir. Robert Michael Lewis ● Wri. Neill D. Hicks, Jon George, Nevin Schreiner

[1] TV Guide by Steve Hall, Indianapolis Star, 11th August, 1994.
[2] Brosnan was formally announced as Bond on 7th June 1994.
[3] Another Mom-with-Kids-in-Danger Role by Jay Bobbin, The Fresno Bee, 7th August, 1994.

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