Is ‘A Deadly Adoption’ the year’s most straight-faced prank?

Most of the reactions I saw roll by in my social media timelines this weekend to the film “A Deadly Adoption” were along the lines of, “What the hell did I just watch?”

I can understand the confusion. And it's awesome.

“A Deadly Adoption” aired Saturday on Lifetime, and it is, by any metric you want to use, a completely typical Lifetime movie. What makes it stand out is that the film stars Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, and there's nothing about the film at any point that would tip that this is meant as a joke. The film opens with a party being thrown by Robert (Ferrell) and his wife Sarah (Wiig), during which Robert casually remarks about how they're going to have to fix the dock soon, just about the time Sarah walks down to stand on the dock no matter what Robert says. She's six months pregnant, but that's over and done with when the dock collapses and she almost drowns.

We flash forward several years. Their only daughter is older now, and the marriage has been strained by their inability to have another child. They're looking to adopt, and that's what brings Bridget (Jessica Lowndes) into their life. She's six months along, and she's looking for a family to adopt the baby. It seems like a perfect fit… OR DOES IT?!

It's impressive to see just how straight they play it, but that's sort of the defining characteristic of the work by Andrew Steele, the film's writer. He also wrote “Casa De Mi Padre,” the Spanish-language riff on telenovelas that Farrell starred in, and his mini-series “The Spoils Of Babylon” and “The Spoils Before Dying” are really only funny if you like seeing someone take something that is already ridiculous and then crank it up to 11. He's like Andy Kaufman, but with a WGAw membership card.

I can't honestly say I think “A Deadly Adoption” is a “good” movie, but it is entirely successful as an exercise in form. It's a tremendously controlled performance by Ferrell in the lead, and it would have been so easy to crank this thing up and make it silly. But both Wiig and Farrell commit completely. There's a confession scene out an hour in that is pretty much perfect in terms of nailing the way these movies play out. While I was married, I'd seen plenty of these things, and “A Deadly Adoption” is as savage in the way it turns convention against itself as any Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker film.

The last twenty minutes of the film will no doubt give rise to a thousand gifs that will show up everywhere by next week. But even when it gets ridiculous, it never goes further than the real films do. Anyone who finds themselves not sure about the film's intent should check out the IMDb credits for director Rachel Goldenberg, who exhibits a finely tuned eye for detail in everything from locations to cinematography to soundtrack to performance, making sure this feels exactly like the real thing. Even better, she actually gives the thing a pulse. It may be ridiculous, but it's never less than completely watchable.

In the end, I thought this was almost preposterously entertaining, but this kind of joke works best depending on how aware you are of the conventions they're mocking. I give all involved credit for pulling off something this dedicated, and I wish they'd been able to keep it a total secret until it aired.

“A Deadly Adoption” will no doubt repeat a thousand or so times. Check it out.