It’s a telling sign when a major star vehicle is dumped into a busy box-office weekend with little advertising or buzz. Occasionally it’s due to a studio’s blind ignorance towards a good film, such as last year’s The Assassination of Jesse James, but the majority of the time it is because the film is an inept disaster. Deception belongs in the latter category, a clumsy erotic thriller that curiously fails to be either erotic or thrilling.
The film introduces us to Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor), a nebbish accountant for Manhattan’s most under-populated corporate office. One late night he is befriended by sleazy lawyer Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman) who decides to help Jonathan break his routines and find some excitement in life. He does this by “accidentally” switching cell phones with the clueless accountant, and providing him the opportunity to join a secret high-profile sex club, where professionals of all walks of life meet anonymously in sparse, high priced hotel rooms to engage in poorly staged, slow-motion sexual activities. Despite the initial glee Jonathan experiences, he soon falls for one of his dates, a mysterious woman played by Michelle Williams. Their date goes horribly wrong however, and soon Jonathan is on the run, while Wyatt’s sinister motivations are revealed.
The basic set-up of Deception has a certain lurid potential. However, the sex club material is extremely poorly handled, and not really necessary to the central plot of the film. Wyatt and Jonathan could have joined a skeet-shooting fraternity and the story would not have suffered. This conceit could be forgiven if the twists which populate the film weren’t so frustratingly mundane. Screenwriter Mark Bomback, who penned last summer’s Live Free or Die Hard, seems unable to reveal a single surprise without telegraphing it twenty minutes earlier.
Equally guilty is first time director Marcel Langenegger, who over-stylizes the film to the point of parody. He engages in endless slow-motion tracking shots of long-stretching hallways, and lingers pointlessly over every sheer white surface in the film. As well, every character is cloaked in shadows at all times, even when standing in broad daylight on a tennis court. This effect is especially damaging to the erotic aspect of the film.
Deception is filled with beautiful women, Michelle Williams obviously, but also Maggie Q. and Natasha Henstridge, all of whom have never looked worse. Done up like aging Southern Californian porn-stars and draped in eighties Skinemax queen Shannon Tweed’s cast-off’s, they immediately recall to mind the Seinfeld episode where Jerry was dating the woman who appeared hideous in certain lighting. It’s extremely difficult to build up any sort of sexually-charged atmosphere when the participants look like the sort of folks you’d see lurching towards you drunkenly at closing time. It also doesn't help matters that they are all one-note roles with little screen time.
The men fare no better, with McGregor in particular giving perhaps his worst performance to date. It’s hard enough to image McGregor as a socially-retarded nerd, but he doesn’t help matters with his painfully hilarious American accent. Using a bland monotone, which occasionally betrays his Scottish heritage, he frequently slips into a full-on Woody Allen impression in moments of extreme emotion. Whether hearing him whine about his desire to “consummate the deepest human needs”, or pleading for an “honest to God conversation”, he’s a character begging to be in a farce. In addition, his character plays two scenes in tightie-whities. Didn't anyone remember the golden rule: boxers for drama, briefs for comedy? Yeesh.
Jackman is also wasted, although he at least has a bit more fun. He plays up the creep-factor of his character, and at least hints at an affinity for playing figures of questionable morality. I’d like to see him take on a similar role in a film devoid of dramatic scenes of high-stakes accounting and cheesy moments ripped from The Red Show Diaries.
Deception is an unequivocal failure on every possible level, and an early candidate for the worst of 2008. In retrospect though, it’s appropriate that a major plot twist centers on faulty plumbing, as Deception is nothing less than cinematic sewage.
1 out of 5
P.S.: I love how the marketing department copycatted the film's poster from last year's infinitely superior Hugh Jackman film The Prestige. I suppose that when your movie sucks this bad your only hope is to play on people's fondness for better films. Hopefully it backfires and instead inspires the public to just go and rent the Chris Nolan film.