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Fox // R // September 23, 2008
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 11, 2008 | E-mail the Author
If you've seen 2005's Derailed, then you've pretty much seen everything decent that Deception has to offer. Only Deception has more gripping performances, prettier cinematography, a complete lack of sense and enough plot holes to make you want to change your movie-watching shocks. With the bad outweighing the good, this pot-boiler of a hackneyed thriller manages to turn its few little tricks long enough for light to flash in a pan -- and then begs for disposal. If Derailed was a poor-man's Hitchcock, I don't know where exactly that puts the lesser-achieved Deception.

The Film:

With its bluntly foreshadowing title, much like Repulsion as it readies for repulsiveness or Psycho prepares for a psychotic character to enter, instantly Deception whips out a microscope for unavoidable scrutiny. Everything is suspect -- hell, even the first guy we see, wearing glasses and swimming through paperwork, might be just a little too shady to ignore. This decision even compromises this neo-noir's rhythm, tone, and flabby twist to a pretty sharp degree. But I digress from all that for a moment, and warn of mild spoilers to come in the following pargraphs.

Set in metro New York, two business professionals build a relationship in this questionable atmosphere during a late night at the office. One is Johnathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor, The Island), a lonely accountant / auditor with non-existent social skills and a jealous streak for everyone else having sex (including the janitors in his eyesight), while the other is the suave, sweet-talking lawyer Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige). Bose initiates this friendly gesture as an outreach to the sheltered McQuarry, somewhat dragging him along to various hotspots to instigate some good-natured male camaraderie. All's well as they play some tennis and hit the clubs, bringing McQuarry closer to him.

Red warning lights flash "DANGER" over and over in our heads once we first see Jackman's character, though, and even more so when we meet the alluring blonde in the subway that shows an inkling of interest in our outcast hero. Played well enough by a trim and captivating Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain), she becomes the little imaginary dagger in McQuarry's heart. She's no more than a fleeting thought to him at this point -- a missed opportunity to fall in love or, at the very least, meet a girl for some release. Bose and McQuarry transcend into typical chauvinist land after some time, pegging women down as objects for their desiring eyes for Bose to touch and McQuarry to gawk at. During one of their outings, McQuarry ends up with Bose's cell phone instead of his own -- right before the globe-trotting lawyer takes a trip out of town. Then, with Bose clear across the world, the phone rings to the gentle feminine whisper that'd be something close to the sound of his death rattle -- "Are you free tonight?"

Convenient, right? Sure. Deception's all-to-expository editing style and script composition surrender much of the intrigue behind a modestly mysterious story, making it more of a situation where you're glancing at the clock waiting for "X" big plot twist to occur so that "Y" can walk into the figure. It's a film that's so consumed in its layers-upon-layers of overdone material that it has to follow a calculated path in order to navigate its way around. In turn, its formulaic nature stands prominent even when we've got somewhat classy performances and rather nice Dante Spinotti cinematography to indulge our eyes. Wyatt's a dark guy who shadily lured McQuarry into the position of answering this phone call. But we knew that was coming, and that it would involve innocent little Jonathan doing something beyond his norm; we just didn't know exactly what was on the other end.

Once McQuarry answers Bose's phone and lands his twitchy self bar-side in a luxurious hotel waiting for a strange woman whom, as we'll soon learn, is involved in a socialite's sex circle, it takes you a little aback at the flawed seediness reeking from Deception's meekly intriguing flow. Instead of Hugh Jackman, the woman gets a guy with a bad haircut and goofy specks. Imagine in Eyes Wide Shut when Tom Cruise's character, established as an attractive and popular social player early in the film, snoops around a pseudo-Pagan orgy within a beautiful mansion. Even he can't charm himself in or out of that "swing" of things; somehow, the nerdy, closed-off audit specialist McQuarry just hits the ground running and no one really minds otherwise. He's a fish who fawns over the life of a shark, though somehow he morphs into a predator almost overnight. Once he grabs himself by the cajones and places his first anonymous outbound call to Charlotte Rampling's sage-like character, labeled nothing more than the "Belle of Wall Street" for our eyes since no names are to the exchanged, he just dives into the pool of sex-minded carnivores.

Meager concepts about the association between passionate anonymous connections and the elite denizens of society are slap-dashed together for bluffs at intelligence, but then Deception folds onto itself once originality is surrendered for the most thoroughly-played game on record. It's kind of like a perverted, self-indulgent knock-off of Double Indemnity for the first two-thirds, then an all-out frappe of a caper screwjob in its conclusion. McGregor and Jackman keep the drama buoyant enough for consumption with some classy performances; however, any sense of intrigue or mystery about their dynamic saunters back into the darkness probably around an hour or so once the mysterious veil lifts to reveal each character's true colors -- shades that we could actually see from miles out.

Then, get this: remember in Mike Judge's Office Space when we watch Ron Livingston's cathartic character nervously fidgeting while he watches that little bar inch closer and closer to 100% during the file transfer? That was a parody of modern technology that took place nearly ten years ago, yet somehow rehashes here to create a kind of befuddling tension in Deception. That's the level of theatrics we're working with once the characters start to push each other's proverbial buttons. Not for me.

Deception's a dispassionate, bland exercise in maddening revelation that only shows flickers of interest in themes that it lacks the competence to clarify. This doesn't gel well with its non-mysterious visual presentation that shines bright spotlights on every single point of mystery that would've been better left unrevealed for our own processing. All this is a shame, because the triad of actors here could've pulled something substantial off. Even the one I'd doubt to lean towards mystery, Michelle Williams, surprised me with how sleek and captivating she made her character. Deception will try and sway you with suitably charming performances and great close-up zooms with lurid backgrounds, but performance levels cannot save a murky little befuddlement with this lack of gusto or smarts.

The DVD:

The Video and Audio

Fox has sent over a screener copy of Deception for our evaluation, which doesn't speak for the final standards that the DVD will exhibit once released for retail purchase. However, it's possible to peer through the pixilated haze and catch a glimpse at what the transfer might look like -- which, in the case of Deception, should result in a strong, colorful transfer.

The Extras: Commentary with Director Langenegger:
Taking the "retelling the story" sort of path, Langenegger's track restates the activity on screen almost action-for-action. He includes continuity tidbits in there, most importantly his concentration on making it cohesive. He's a very intelligent and focused director with a fluently artistic eye -- clearly seen through this blunt commentary -- but all those elements really didn't gel in this production.

Exposing the Deception:
An eighteen-minute (18) general assembly featurette is included that covers just about every element from Jackman's participation as a producer to the muted wardrobe choices made. There's a few interesting elements covered in the piece, but one that really stands out: Lengennegger discusses a few "changes" made to the original script that change the way that the fim and its characters were made. In all honesty, I preferred the original ideas that were in place before Deception became all about its convolution. Of course, there's mention of Williams as embodying the "Hitchcockian blonde", which heightens my discord with with way the film panned out.

Club Sexy:
Here, we delve into the assembly of the intricate and anonymous sex circle McQuarry getz wrapped up in. Lots of discussion on the validity arises here, accompanied by commentary from a sex therapist. It helps to reinforce that these circles exist, though it doesn't help to validate the meandering properties of its dynamic between exclusivity and anonymity.

Added Deception:
Several Deleted Scenes are included here, three to be exact. One of which is an alternate ending that, to be honest, I think would've potentially worked better for the film. Alas, it still wouldn't save the film from its underdeveloped nebulous of a third act.

Also included are a few Trailers for other various Fox products.


Final Thoughts:

It's not that Deception's all that bad ... it's just an overdone, uninspired, bland piece of raunchy mystery theater. Talent abound and grand cinematography really try to carry this to a compelling level, but instead it shows that these bright spots just aren't made to be wedged into this meddled work. Langenegger's attention to detail backfires on him here, rendering a overly-knotted suspense movie without passion and intrigue. Fans of Michelle Williams, Hugh Jackman, or Dante Spinotti's photography might want to give this one a spin just for indulgence purposes, but anyone looking for a solid mystery film should Skip It and tumble over to some real Hitchcock or, if you haven't seen them, the likes of Derailed and, if you're feeling really saucy, some classic noir in the tradition of Double Indemnity or Laura.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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