Lies and Illusions
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // $29.97 // September 29, 2009
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 3, 2009
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The Film:

Imagine James Cameron's True Lies, only without Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, any explosive action or remnants of graspable humor, and then top it with both discomfort and ineffective role reversals for all involved. That's the gist of Christian Slater's return to the direct-to-video circuit with Lies and Illusions, Tibor Takács's film that stays true to its name by fudging the truth a bit about the humor present in its disillusioned thrills. Branded an action-comedy mixture, its lack of laughs and magnetic suspense -- or fun, for that matter -- transforms it into an awkward and stagnant mess trapped in a corner with nowhere to go.

It focuses on Wes Wilson (Slater), author of a best-selling relationship book on the importance of honesty and trust. His wife-to-be Samantha (Sarah Ann Schultz) claims to work for a run-of-the-muck corporation, something that comes into question the night of a big celebratory party for his book. After a bad motor-scooter (Cuba Gooding Jr.) has his goons knock Wes out and pin his wife down to question her about diamonds, leading to her death, it seems less likely that it wasn't the case. Bear the film's title mind -- nudge-nudge, wink-wink -- as a year later, amid a fresh casual relationship with a local reporter (Christa Campbell) and a new book in development, Wes starts to uncover some secrets lying underneath his nose about his wife.

The most intriguing part of Lies and Illusions comes in its premise. Eric James' script clearly outlines a concept that could blossom with plenty of sharp ironic humor, about how an author focusing on honesty in a relationship is trapped in a rat's nest within one the worst (okay, second worst, as she's still a woman) lies imaginable. That's as far as the cleverness goes, which runs the well dry early on. Instead, it's the other half of the script -- stiff, charmless dialogue and halfhearted tension -- that pulls the film down before it can even fully take off. I think the biggest issue lies in the fact that the filmmakers couldn't come up with a defined mood, so they slapped both comedy and thriller labels on the flick in a "spray and pray" fashion that hopes to confuse its audience into favoring it more than it deserves.

Lies and Illusions builds into a style that largely clones all the hollow, more stilted moments in NBC's "My Own Worst Enemy", with Christian Slater's Wes acting out as a slight reworking of his "good guy" character Henry. Though the series fizzled out after less than a season for obvious tonal problems, Slater's grasping of the character's dual personalities made it a tough one to dismiss. Once again, he gets caught in a situation where a lack of defined tone makes his performance seem brash and uneven, much like in his other direct-to-video turn in Love Lies Bleeding.

This brings up Lies and Illusions' clumsiness, a braying and nerve-grating collage of half-witted colloquial blurbs with about about as much charm value as white-noise static cranked up to full volume. It's not like the film does anything particularly wrong, though some of the stabs at cutesy comedic dialogue fall very, very flat. It's mainly in the failure at outlining tone that left me uninterested and blankly staring at the screen, while Slater re-enacts a highly-caffeinated protagonist version of his previous characters and Cuba Gooding Jr. crafts a far-fetched violent yet genteel gangster out of Isaac -- not to mention the weak fleshing of both its primary female characters and Wes' obnoxious agent. None of it works, drowning it in a sea of loud yet ineffective blandness that amounts to little more than a frittered-away glimmer of satiric potential.

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

Lies and Illusions looks fine in its 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation from Anchor Bay, presenting its intentional wobbly photography and intense close-ups with fine stability. Some flesh tones do lean towards the reddish side of things, while other scenes showcase some heavy grain -- especially darker sequences. The palette leans towards low-end blues and rich, rusty reds, which make for an interesting visual experience amid a high-contrast and, at times, dark scheme.

Audio is available in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio track, which is fairly dynamic and robust in several occurrences. Dialogue remains fairly clean, but growing cramped and tinny during more sound-active sequences. The musical accompaniment, as unbalanced with the film as it may be, sounds decent enough when paired with action sequences. Gunshots aren't impressive, sounding compressed and a little pitched, while surround activity is nearly non-existent. It's an uninteresting yet supportive sound option that handles the material to only suitable levels.

Special Features:

Aside from a Trailer, all we've got here is a fairly generic Making of Lies and Illusions (11:04) featurette that mostly regurgitates character points and a plot synopsis. Some interview time with director Tibor Takács and the cast make it barely worth the struggle.

Final Thoughts:

A decent idea gets drowned in garbled tones and subpar performances with Lies and Illusions, a hybrid flick void of effectiveness in either its aggravating humor or its uninteresting suspense. Christian Slater offers up little more than an extension of his previous performances, while the rest of his support -- including a charismatic folly from Cuba Gooding Jr. -- help little in giving this flick any attitude. Unless directionless momentum and dry, non-engaging satire is your thing, you'll be happier if you Skip it.

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