Deception (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

To succeed, Deception requires viewers to be both inattentive and stupid. There's not a twist in this flimsy and moth-eaten plot that isn't both contrived and transparent and not a character who hasn't been hopelessly manipulated by the needs of the narrative. Good thrillers hide their seams; Deception exaggerates and highlights their existence. Sitting through this movie, it's impossible to enter its world because we never believe in anyone or anything that first-time director Marcel Langenegger puts on the screen.

The only reason Deception has received any kind of theatrical release (if being dumped unceremoniously into multiplexes at the end of April can be considered a "release") is because it stars three well-known actors. The film, lensed by veteran cinematographer Dante Spinotti, also looks good. But the storyline is pure Skin-a-max. Replace Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman with unknowns and Michelle Williams with a recent Playboy Centerfold trying her hand at acting and this would unquestionably headed direct to the discount DVD bin. Deception is yet another example of A-list actors slumming to get paychecks so they can continue to make projects they genuinely care about.

Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor) is a timid accountant who works long hours, lives alone in a functional apartment, and doesn't have the guts to strike up a conversation with a girl who interests him. One late night at the law firm where he's conducting an audit, he is approached by the dashing Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman), whose offer of friendship comes gilded with tennis, expensive clothing, and girls. Wyatt provides Jonathan access to an exclusive sex club where a list of phone numbers is circulated and men and women call each other when they're in the mood for some anonymous recreation. Suddenly, while Wyatt is in London, Jonathan is getting laid almost every night, but it stops being fun when he falls for "S" (Michelle Williams), one of the less predatory members of the club. That's when it all starts to unravel for Jonathan, who is soon embroiled in a situation that involves murder, kidnapping, and theft. Plus, he can't even get his landlord to fix the damn leaky pipe in his apartment.

Even though the movie delves into the world of sex clubs and there's quite a bit of flesh on display, Obi-Wan keeps his light saber sheathed. That's a little odd, because male nudity is all the rage this year and Ewan McGregor is one of the least inhibited actors working outside of the porn industry. Michelle Williams is equally buttoned up, leaving the nakedness to a variety of unknowns, although there are flashes from Nastasha Henstridge and Charlotte Rampling (neither of whom would be placed in the "shy" category). I guess they needed to pay the rent as well. To say the acting is unreasonably bad would be kind. It's an indication of how little McGregor cares about the role that his American accent, which is usually impeccable, frequently slips. At least Jackman's remains rock-solid, which is more than can be said for his hammy performance.

There are two kinds of thrillers: those that think they're smarter than the audience and those that are. Members of the second category are often characterized by sharp dialogue, smart plot turns, and interesting (if not always well-developed) characters. Members of the first category are usually plodding and obvious with laughable dialogue, stereotyped characters, and storylines that range from improbable to ridiculous. It doesn't take much insight to place Deception in its proper place. The most infuriating thing about this movie is that the filmmakers seem to believe they're actually being clever and there's a chance viewers won't figure out the truth about Wyatt and S before those details are explicitly revealed, or that a third act "surprise" won't be as obvious as William Shatner's hairpiece. One can perhaps excuse a big, special effects-laden blockbuster for expecting viewers to flip the brainpower switch to the "off" position on the way into a theater, but the prerequisite of undergoing a frontal lobotomy should never apply to a psychological thriller. Such sloppiness doesn't merely make Deception unappealing; it places it on the cusp of unwatchability.

Deception (United States, 2008)

Director: Marcel Langenegger
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams
Screenplay: Mark Bomback
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Music: Ramin Djawadi
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2008-04-25
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1