Poor Chad Lowe. He hadn’t been doing too badly for himself — he won an Emmy for the series Life Goes On and recently did a nice guest turn on ER. But if the new Showtime Original movie The Apartment Complex is any kind of indication, he’s about to join his brother Rob down in the bowels of the entertainment industry: cheesy made-for-TV movies. Put The Apartment Complex back-to-back with Rob’s last TV flick, Atomic Train, and you’d have the makings one of those little variety packs of cheese balls. You know, the kind that come rolled in nuts.
A destitute grad student, Stan (Lowe) is living in his car to save money when he takes a job as manager of a Hollywood apartment complex, mostly for the rent-free apartment that comes with the position. Right away, though, he’s got a weird feeling about Wonder View Apartments, thanks to all the “spookiness” bubbling over from the place: the owner’s name is Dr. Caligari; the complex itself is “an official architectural anomaly” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s cousin (wait for it), Iggy; the pool looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon lives in it; a pair of strange twins hang out on the patio; an entire apartment, No. 17, is missing; and so on. Maybe this kind of stuff is spooky when you’re a kid in film school, but I expect better of industry veterans like writer Karl Schaefer, who had a hand in the TV series Eerie, Indiana, and director Tobe Hooper, who gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.
Stan, by lucky coincidence, is studying psychology, allowing him plenty of opportunity to practice analyzing his unusual new neighbors: Shana (Victoria’s Secret model Tyra Banks) and Kiki (Gina Mari), two body double/stunt actresses, whose presence gives Schaefer and Hooper the chance to have a couple of hard-bodied, scantily clothed young women wrestle each other for the audience’s enjoyment; Miss Chenille (Amanda Plummer), a ridiculously oversexed psychic, whose laughable attempt to seduce Stan left me feeling embarrassed for a fine actress like Plummer; Alice (Fay Masterson: Eyes Wide Shut, Amistad), the pretty young thing Stan falls head over heels for, who inexplicable stays with her stupidly violent boyfriend, Morgan (Patrick Warburton). Plus, we’re bashed over the head with the metaphor of people as rats in a maze — just like the rats Stan is studying! — a few too many times.
The manager’s apartment — abandoned by the previous manager, who disappeared without explanation — was the home of a madman, or so it appears to Stan, psychology boy that he is. Every last little object is neatly wrapped in plastic and labeled “Property of Glumley.” And Glumley’s diary is full of seemingly paranoid ramblings about the tenant in No. 9, who’s out to get Glumley. And what do you think Stan finds when he starts to clean out the pool? Hints: disappeared without explanation, someone out to get him… Yup, it’s the manager’s body, bloated and yucky from weeks in the slimy pool.
Things really start to get dumb when the dimbulb cops (Ron Canada and Miguel Sandoval) accuse Stan of the murder without the least bit of evidence and in the face of Stan’s rock-solid alibi, which they don’t even bother to check out. But that’s pretty typical of this inane flick: it’s full of shallow characters doing senseless things.
There’s an implication early on that perhaps this is all some odd nightmare of Stan’s, that none of this is actually happening. If that turned out to be the case, it would be bad enough. But no. The Apartment Complex tries to straddle reality and The Twilight Zone, and the result is neither bizarre enough nor grounded enough in the real world to satisfy either storytelling urge.