According to web reports, this Hugh Jackman
thriller was originally titled The Tourist and The List before the filmmakers and/or studio finally settled on Deception. The alternates are not exactly the most eye-catching or original titles, but both would be just as appropriate for this particular film. I can't imagine what the impetus was to find something even more generic -- or if it's even possible to come up with a more bland thriller title. Betrayal, perhaps? Dark Secrets?
This is a film that starts off with some agreeable, professional trashiness before settling into routine. This is not to say that the opening, with meek, lonely accountant Jonathan (McGregor) striking up a friendship with the slick Wyatt (Jackman), is entirely smooth going. Almost immediately, the movie suffers from casting the sly, handsome McGregor as a fumbling nebbish. The guy has both acting chops and charisma; naturally, several of his Hollywood roles ask him to trade both for an American accent. Hopefully he meets up with Colin Farrell
and James McAvoy
to commiserate -- or maybe he swapped stories on-set with Jackman, another good-looking overseas bloke who has alternated terrific performances with bouts of blandness. Article continues below
Here, Jackman at least gets to have a little fun as a smooth operator. Wyatt introduces Jonathan to an elite cross between a party line and a phone tree: men and women, mostly of the wealthy and powerful variety, can call on each other for anonymous sexual encounters. Jonathan is drawn into this relationship-free world, while the film sort of flirts with the idea of joining him. Natasha Henstridge
, Charlotte Rampling, and Maggie Q
all pop by to help with the illusion of sex, trading on their various cine-sexual histories (from Henstridge's deadly, oft-naked alien in the Species films to Rampling's near-constant charge). There are flashes of nudity and the like, but all of the actresses have fleeting, almost cameo-length roles -- heating lamps flicked off before they can warm up.
The real woman of interest is supposed to be Michelle Williams
, as a mysterious femme who has -- against sex-club protocol -- an actual conversation with Jonathan, setting in motion the film's supposed thrills. Williams, a surprisingly resourceful actress who here has the benefit of being lighted like some kind of golden angel, does work up a nice rapport with McGregor, even with exchanges like "you should go"/"you should stay" clanging in our ears.
Before anything interesting can come of this relationship, though, the film's women recede and Deception turns out to be one of those movies that finds illicit sex clubs altogether less interesting than the business of wire transfers, embezzling, and co-signatories on dummy bank accounts. Of course, such things can be terrifically exciting -- heist movies, for example, can thrive on the meticulous and/or ridiculous details of moving some money around. But the rather less detailed Deception wants us to get all hot and bothered watching a status bar on an electronic funds transfer, the kind of nail-biting suspense that only a studio executive could love. Maybe if they make enough movies about it, power and money will actually become the world's only aphrodisiacs.
This is an especially good-looking crap thriller; cinematographer Dante Spinotti shot Heat and The Insider for Michael Mann, and his cold, clean capturing of New York offices and shadows brings to mind the Los Angeles cityscapes of Mann's films. But that only makes the screenplay less congruous. It's as if the real script -- one worthy of these actors and production values -- was misplaced, so the producers found a last-minute substitute that had been locked in a desk drawer since the heyday of Michael Douglas
, and everyone just put their heads down and forged ahead. Now that this release is past, that's probably what they should do now, too.