Jerry O'Connell as Declan Fitzpatrick
Lauren Stamile as Lena Simone
Isabella Hofmann as Lilibeth Simone
Alan Ritchson as Lucian Manet
Faye Dunaway as Odette Simone
Ashley LeConte Campbell as Josephine Manet
Alejandro Rose-Garcia as Julian Manet
Bianca Malinowski as Abigail Manet (as Bianca Malino)
Chris Lindsay as Remy
Ciera Payton as Effie
A distinct improvement over Nora Roberts' Tribute, Nora Roberts' Midnight Bayou is another in the series of four telefilms based on the best-selling author's novels that were produced in 2009 for Lifetime. While the story isn't anything new to lovers of historical fiction, basic melodrama, or supernatural ghost stories, Nora Roberts' Midnight Bayou sports some interesting directorial touches, a quick pace, and the very sexy presence of Lauren Stamile as our heroine (or in this case, hero).
Eight years before, visiting college football player Declan Fitzpatrick (Jerry O'Connell) spots the Manet Hall plantation in Louisiana and feels an instant...connection with the house - as well as with the ghostly apparition of a housemaid that first steps in front of his car, and then sports herself on the second-story veranda (an apparition that no one else sees, including teammate and local, Remy, played by Chris Lindsay). Fast-forward to today, and Boston-bred rich boy Declan has dumped his fiancé at the altar, quit his lucrative job at a prestigious law firm, and has set up shop down in New Orleans to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina...all from his base of operations at Manet Hall, which he's bought with every last dime he had in the world.
But strange events begin to occur, including Declan's habit of "walking into" realistic memories from a hundred years before (including fully decorated rooms of the Hall that come and go like dreams), until Declan comes to believe that his home is truly haunted. Certainly the long, long legs of bar owner Lena Simone (Lauren Stamile) are haunting Declan with equal force, because he's soon beating a path to Lena's grandmother's (Faye Dunaway) bayou door, hoping to get an "in" with the hot-but-unresponsive Lena. His efforts pay off, and soon the two are lovers, but only briefly as Lena pulls back (as she always does), hurting the man before he hurts her...just as her wayward mother, Lilibeth Simone (Isabella Hofmann) did to Lena when she was little. So who is watching Lena as she and Declan spar, and what impact on today's events is brought on by the happenings at Manet Hall a hundred years prior to Lena and Declan meeting?
Written by Stephen Tolkin and directed by TV vet Ralph Hemecker, Nora Roberts' Midnight Bayou may not present any startling new twists on its reincarnation theme (although the switch in gender roles for the spirits is interesting), but it's efficiently handled with some nice touches by Hemecker, and professionally essayed by the solid cast. Starting off slow in introducing the reincarnation/memory sequences (which are visualized to good effect), director Hemecker builds suspense throughout the film by increasing the screen time of these sequences detailing the "love" triangle between Creole twin brothers Lucien and Julien Manet (Alan Richson and Alejandro Rose-Garcia), and Cajun housemaid Abigail Manet (Bianca Malino), until the finale when we learn the true circumstances behind Abigail's death (a scene that's handled with an agreeable intensity). While this backstory is well-executed, it's not particularly original...but it is twisty to have the sex roles reversed and have Abigail come back as Declan, and Lucien come back as Lena; it's too bad they didn't dwell on the possibilities of that switcheroo (as bayou gri gri practitioner Faye Dunaway says matter-of-factly, "Why not?"). Along with Hemecker's occasional camera flourishes (I particularly liked Declan's dream sequence where he's transported through the night to wind up face down on the dock), this familiar but well-constructed ghost story keeps your interest.
The cast helps mightily, too. Dunaway, whom I haven't seen in a dog's age, is spunky and sharp as the bayou palm reader, while Rose-Garcia gets his character's dissipation and sexual rage down pat for the viewer. O'Connell has never struck me one way or the other (he seems genial and blank here), but Lauren Stamile was a nicely erotic surprise. While that accent seems by way of Tennessee Williams rather than N'awlins, it's still sexy as hell, and her smoky, sultry looks fit rather nicely with her "you can look but can't touch" character. A plus here also is the use of Oak Alley Plantation, familiar to viewers from so many other films. An unremarkable but solid Lifetime romancer, with a good cast and some snappy direction.