James Franco can't class up Lifetime's 'High School Lover'

James Franco, Julia Jones in 'High School Lover'

(CNN)James Franco plays the concerned dad, not the sleazy movie star having sex with a teenager, in "High School Lover." Still, even with a bit of bait and switch in terms of expectations, casting the actor (who doubles as producer) is likely a win for Lifetime, in a TV movie that works overtime at living down to its title.

Indeed, the camp factor is so high that "Lover" almost plays like a full-on parody of TV movies' bad old days -- a la "Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?" (in this case, "Father") -- except for the fact that parts of it are so unpleasant.
Franco, actually, has a relatively small role as Rick, the dad to 17-year-old Kelly ("Orange is the New Black's" Paulina Singer). The girl is introduced being surly about the fact that her father's considerably younger girlfriend (Julia Jones) can share her clothes.
At a club with two friends, Kelly meets Christian Booth (Francois Arnaud), a dreamy star who's almost 10 years her senior. "How old are you? Actually, don't tell me," he says.
    With her pals egging her on, Kelly is quickly treated to a "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"-type courtship, which includes being ferried around, in order, via stretch limousine, helicopter and motorcycle.
    Rick, who works as a director of cinematography, is understandably upset, but his attempts to break the two up prove unsuccessful -- at least, until Christian starts to exhibit anger-management issues because, well, Lifetime.
    Kelly is, of course, initially star-struck about being wooed by, as she puts it, "a rich, famous, gorgeous movie star." But rather than forcing Rick to wrestle with that, the movie descends into stalker territory that, conveniently, obviates further questions about the propriety of the relationship.
    Before that, the movie creepily plays up the romance of Kelly and Christian's encounters, while the two exchange cooing texts like, "Come over." "I'm at school."
    Lifetime movies usually get a bit of a pass for their "ick" factor -- that is, after all, part of their appeal, making it hard to devote much energy to deriding a movie that sticks its jaw out and practically begs to be whacked.
    The real mystery here, other than the dual paycheck, is why at this stage Franco would lend his name and star power to "High School Lover," which, even by those standards, ranks as a remedial-level exercise.
    "High School Lover" premieres February 4 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.