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

Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted September 23, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"Sometimes, I sit and I look through the glass and I see life...
literally passing me by."

- Jonathan McQuarry

The Movie
Oh Jonathan, I know the feeling...kind of like my life while watching this movie. Hopefully completing the unofficial trilogy of one-word thrillers that start with "De"--following Goldie Hawn's Deceived in 1991 and Clive Owen's Derailed in 2005 (neither a classic, but both far better than this)--Deception has a lot going for it on the surface: a very strong cast from top to bottom, and a first-time director who seems to have some skill. But I guarantee that my review will be far more entertaining than the film (I'd offer your money back, but we don't get paid much here...unless you consider "nothing" much).

Ewan McGregor is audit manager Jonathan McQuarry, a shy, nerdy loner who hops from assignment to assignment, never getting a chance to make friends or be happy ("I just sometimes feel so...removed"). While burning the midnight oil at a New York law firm, he's befriended by Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman, also a producer for the project), his exact opposite: a dashing, charming man who exudes confidence and sexuality. Jonathan develops an innocent man-crush as Wyatt introduces his new protégé to fine art, marijuana and strip clubs. But in the back of our minds, we just know there's a Strangers on a Train/Rope vibe to it all (my apologies to Hitchcock for dragging his masterpieces into this).

Just before Wyatt heads to London for work, the two accidentally pick up each other's cell phone by mistake--yet neither notice until it's too late, the first of many plot stretches requiring you to swallow your common sense detector (seriously...why does Jonathan leave Wyatt a message on a phone he won't know the voicemail passcode to?!). Left with Wyatt's phone, Jonathan picks up a call and is greeted by a sultry female voice: "Are you free tonight?" He decides to meet the stranger (Natasha Henstridge) at a hotel (don't ask me how they would recognize each other!) and follows her to a room, where the following exchange--a frustrating conversation based on misunderstanding (think Three's Company)--takes place:

Jonathan: "Look...the person who you thought you were talking to isn't me..."
Woman: "You're not who I spoke to on the phone?"
Jonathan: "No, no...yes, I am, but..."
Woman: "What's wrong? Are you not attracted to me?"
Jonathan: "'re beautiful! It's just, you called me, and I came here, but I don't...I'm not too sure what's going on..."

This is where I start to take deep breaths, count to 10 and try not to scream at my television set. Hmm, how about saying what you mean? Oh, that wouldn't serve the plot! So instead we have to put up with this lame, beating-around-the-bush dialogue not even worthy of 5-year-olds. Okay, I'll accept it for now, as long as we get a good payoff at the end (spoiler: we don't!). My nerves were put to the test a few scenes later, when Jonathan meets another woman (Charlotte Rampling...dear lord what is she doing in this mess?!) and has this exchange:

Woman: "If you are who you don't seem to be, you're late."
Jonathan: "Excuse me?"
Woman: "Are you?"
Jonathan: "Late, or who I'm not supposed to be?"
Woman: "Either."
Jonathan: "Yes, I am late, and I am who I don't seem to be."
Cameron (chiming in from the couch): "Who's on first?"

This is where I start to pull out my hair and foam at the mouth, yet still I count to 10 and let the infuriating double talk pass (for now). In case you haven't figured it out, Jonathan has stumbled into an underground sex club of wealthy business professionals who know each other only by numbers. Rampling's Wall Street tycoon defends her choice to play the field "for the same reason that men do it...the economics of the arrangement. It's intimacy without intricacy." If sexy talk like that gets you all hot and bothered, just wait until Jonathan gives us this juicy dialogue in bed: "You should know that I have a very keen ability identifying hierarchical relationships and binary posits." (whew! I am turned way on!)

Whore Montage! Ewan gets his groove on

Jonathan becomes addicted to the club, and quickly learns the rules: If you get horny, call up a trick and arrange a meeting, but no names, no business talk and no rough stuff. The notches on his bedpost grow exponentially as he engages in a nookie extravaganza (seen through a whoring montage) that increases his confidence. But things change when he coincidentally meets up with a woman (Michelle Williams) who he briefly saw at the subway just days earlier. Instantly under her spell, he opts for dinner instead of sex during their first encounter. But she won't share her name; all he knows is that it starts with "S", so he opts to call her Sunbeam until he is certain (what a tool!).

But she warns him not to get close: "I don't want to complicate your life." "No! I want all the complications you've got!" Wow, is he whipped. Be careful what you wish for, Jonathan! This is where the film makes yet another mistake, because Jonathan isn't very likeable: He's a weakling, which makes it hard to care about what soon befalls him. During his second encounter, Jonathan returns from the ice machine to find a blood-soaked bed and no Sunbeam. He's soon knocked out by a dark figure, later waking up and--in yet another absurd move--calls the cops, fearing the love of his life is in danger. Here's what he gives Det. Russo (Lisa Gay Hamilton) to go on: "All I know about her is that her first name starts with 'S'."

Do you feel my pain yet? This is where the standard thriller structure kicks into high gear: Jonathan realizes that he's been played, finding out that no Wyatt Bose works at the firm. His discovery phase is followed by amateur sleuthing, and I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that Wyatt is in on the scam. Which brings me to a few more lapses in logic, adding to a pile that is starting to really get on my nerves: Why would Wyatt give Jonathan clues to his identity, and why in God's name wouldn't Wyatt cancel his cell phone service, preventing Jonathan from answering calls that allow him to get more clues? And why wouldn't Jonathan be suspicious of calls he got on Wyatt's phone?!

Breathe in! Jonathan soon learns he's being used for a reason (complete with a phone threat: "That was foreplay...and now you're fucked." Much like us viewers!). That sets into motion the final act. And oh dear lord, what an act it is. As the conclusion started to play out, I was still willing to give Deception a chance if it just satisfied my thrill lust--just give me a jolt of dirty deeds to finish things off on a high, no matter how improbable. For a film that tries to act sexy and dirty, that's not too much to ask for, right?

Shockingly, there's no orgasm. Not even close. We get edged for 90 minutes, only to be left alone--neglected and unsatisfied--a sense of guilt and shame pouring over us like the aftermath of a bad one-night stand in a dank, disgusting motel. How dare you tease us, Deception, and then dump us like the selfish whore you are, leaving us loaded and lonely? I ask very little of my thrillers--throw me red herrings, absurd twists, scene-chewing's all in the name of fun if the payoff is entertaining.

But Deception ends with a ridiculous mess of scenes that defy all sense of logic, presenting a laundry list of problems that are impossible to ignore (a deal, after all that?! daylight?! the suitcase?!). Agh!!! Even director Marcel Langenegger notes in the commentary: "We had long discussions about this," acknowledging the stupidity of one development. You also get a laughably bad death scene--a slow, agonizing sequence that looks like an outtake from Waiting for Guffman. Just die, dammit!

The film isn't concerned with any semblance of relatable behavior. The script is an absolute mess (all the more obvious given we have so few characters), and the story is too simple. Deception also telegraphs clues obviously and frequently, hitting you over the head with close-ups and lines of dialogue that scream "Clue!" Even worse, those shots are fed to us again with insulting flashbacks to help the dimwits piece things together. (In the audio commentary, Langenegger notes of one shot: "It confirms what we probably all figured out by now." Bingo!)

Foreshadowing at its not-so-finest...

If you needed any more proof that the film thinks we're really dumb, "revelations" are proven long after the fact with meaningless scenes that confirm the script's low opinion of the viewer. As for the sex angle...please! How can you look at yourself in the mirror, Deception? This film is so tame, not even reaching Skinemax levels of guilty pleasure enjoyment. There's no sense of passion, titillation or surprise, something other films--even bad ones--have exploited (I'm looking at you Basic Instinct 2, Body of Evidence and Jade...boy is that a low bar!). Deception thinks it's shocking us, but it doesn't even come close. Strangers meeting for sex...that's all you've got?!

Absolutely nothing--I repeat, nothing--comes as a surprise. As for thrills, forget it! I almost laughed as Jonathan frantically worked his laptop in a supposedly suspenseful scene involving passwords and transfers. One, we don't care about him. Two, the scene is lame. Sandra Bullock was a million times more successful mining similar ground in The Net.

Yawn! Where's Sandra Bullock when you need her?!

Jackman comes off the best, getting some smoldering scenes in at the end; Williams looks the part, although she can't rise above the material to be a true femme fatale; while McGregor pulls off the loser just fine. I can't fault the cast, a very accomplished group that does a fine job with what they're given--which is crap (and this comes from someone who is easily entertained with even the dumbest suspense flicks). Deception has a lot in common with Derailed, a film that was still predictable and average, but immensely more enjoyable than this huge disappointment. And it's so sad, given the cast and the still-great work of accomplished director of photography Dante Spinotti. But much like Jonathan, Deception is a wimp--a big, fat, limp disappointment, a truly flaccid feature that--like us--never reaches a climax.


Fox provided a screener for this review, so it's probably unfair to make a final assessment on the image. You get an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that has an intentionally cold, dark feeling to it. The film was shot half on film, half on digital. It's frequently gray, with cold tones permeating many set pieces, isolating Jonathan in his surroundings. Some grain was noticeable, but there were no major issues otherwise.

The main track is a 5.1 option that I'll reserve final judgment on; it got the job done without any major issues. Also provided are a Spanish and French Dolby Surround track, and subtitles in English and Spanish.

For such a dud, Deception gets a decent--and in some cases amusingly insulting--set of extras. Leading the way is the audio commentary with director Marcel Langenegger. He clearly cares about the film--and Jonathan. Fans will glean a few interesting facts about his thought process behind developing the atmosphere, tone and look of the film, using certain shots and set pieces to create a sense of loneliness--noting that the idea of duality was a crucial element. Langenegger also talks about shooting the movie half on film (he wanted it all on film) and half digitally (a process favored by director of photography Dante Spinotti). But by and large it's a dry listen with far too much plot citation, sometimes sounding like he's reading from the script ("They get out of the car and walk into the bank through a golden door...").

Up next is Exposing the Deception: The Making of the Film (18:06), which features interviews with all of the main cast and crew (Jackman, sporting hairy jowls, must have been shooting Wolverine at the time). Writer Mark Bomback talks about the evolution of the story, which started as an identity theft vehicle. Studios initially told him the material was "way too R-rated" (really?!), and he notes it was influenced by the psychological thrillers of the '70s. The development kicked into high gear when Jackman came on board as a star and producer, helping them fill out the cast with some strong actors. Langenegger talks about the importance of the New York setting, and about his lighting and other visual choices--furthering the film/digital dichotomy discussion. Production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein and costume designer Sue Gandy also share their choices for the film's look. But my favorite segment has producer John Palermo talking about his knowledge of New York social life and his desire to keep the sex club actors sexy, something he had to fight for. He talks about "finding a balance", and one of his comments is intercut with a shot of Charlotte Rampling--the implication being that older women, particularly Rampling, are not attractive. Way to go, guys! How nice of you!

But it gets even better! In Club Sexy (10:01), we are treated to an exploration of the sex club phenomenon, with certified sex therapist Dr. Diana Wiley (or is that certifiable?) making this shocking revelation: "Sex clubs, private sex clubs, definitely exist." Cutting edge commentary, people! This featurette come across like Sex Clubs For Dummies. The doc and Palermo go on to make a number of generalizations that I simply had to write down and share. Maybe you'll be as amused--and horrified--as I was:

  • "The idea that successful people are beautiful is obviously very subjective. However, a lot of people do find confident people sexy, and most successful people are very confident and are risk takers."
  • "Wealthy people can be more sexually adventurous because they're better educated, typically, and they have more opportunity for playing around, and they're lusted after a little more. Power is an aphrodisiac."
  • "High-achieving people, men or women, often don't want a more complicated, time-invested relationship. Relationships that work are time-consuming. So this anonymous sex can provide the orgasm, can provide the intimacy."

Wow! I didn't think it was possible to insult the poor/stupid/ugly and the rich/smart/pretty all at the same time, but congrats to them for that accomplishment! We also get more "defense" of casting old, ugly Rampling. Another therapist, Dr. Lori Buckley, also adds some (less offensive) commentary.

Oh crap! Ewan poos on the script...

Up next is Added Deception: Deleted Scenes (totaling 4:54), with optional audio commentary from Langenegger. The first--featuring a beautiful aerial shot of McGregor on the crapper--is an alternate opening scene that provides a different take on his first meeting with Wyatt, adding an element of imagination that was discarded. "When we screened the movie to some executives, they felt that it doesn't set the right tone to have two guys in a bathroom opening a movie." I agree that it isn't the best scene, but that comment made me laugh at the homophobic hint, especially when the second deleted scene features a male hustler. The third sequence is the alternate ending, which is a much tamer solution that eliminates a lot of the logic lapses in the theatrical ending--but doesn't save the movie. Langenegger is clearly miffed, calling the scene's exclusion unfortunate: "I will always be a bit sad that this isn't how the movie ended in the theaters."

Also included are (oddly non-anamorphic) trailers for other releases.

Final Thoughts:
Deception is one big poser, a thriller without thrills. It thinks we're stupid, painfully telegraphing "twists" and reiterating them afterward. Nothing in the film is a surprise, leaving the extremely talented cast adrift in an awful script. For a film that tries to seduce us with a sex club edge, Deception--like its lead character--is ultimately a wimp, not even bad enough to be a guilty pleasure. It edges us for 90 minutes but leaves us without a money shot--it's a surprisingly flaccid, limp affair, a tease of a movie with no payoff. The solid cast makes it a rental recommendation for thriller junkies, but I'm still advising you to Skip It. Just play Clue will be a lot harder to solve.

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