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Dustin Putman

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Deception  (2008)
1 Stars
Directed by Marcel Langenegger.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Maggie Q, Charlotte Rampling, Natasha Henstridge, Lynn Cohen, Paul Sparks, Bruce Altman, Andrew Ginsburg, Daniel Lugo, Margaret Colin, Paz de la Huerta, Rachael Taylor.
2008 – 108 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content, language, brief violence and some drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 25, 2008.
Can a movie title be so unthinkably bad that it single-handedly ruins the viewing experience? Can a film's theatrical trailer and television ads be so grievously spoiler-filled that they strip away whatever story surprises there may otherwise have been? As it turns out, yes. Originally titled the more appropriate "The List," as well as the even more evocative "The Tourist," "Deception" sounds like it should be a third-rate erotic thriller from the mid-'90s starring Shannon Tweed. Worse, still, it exposes many of the key twists and turns before even a frame of footage has been glimpsed. The aforementioned advertising is no better, giving away key elements of the ending that should never, under any circumstances, have been used in the marketing. Distributor 20th Century Fox deserves to be slapped with multiple demerits for (1) thinking up one of the worst big-studio titles in recent years, and (2) being so lazy and disrespectful to audiences in their promotional materials.

Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor) is a reserved, hard-working New York City accountant who takes a walk on the wild side after meeting and befriending hotshot Wall Street attorney Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman). When their cell phones are swapped right before Wyatt leaves on a business trip, its incessant ringing eventually lures Jonathan into a private club that presents members with the opportunity for no-strings-attached sexual encounters by way of interconnected phone communication—"Intimacy without intricacy," an elder member (Charlotte Rampling) describes the system as. Jonathan's uncharacteristic escapades are finally put to an end when he meets a gorgeous fellow member named S (Michelle Williams). As soon as they've hit it off and begun to take a real liking to each other, she mysteriously disappears without a trace. With evidence of criminal wrongdoing nil and the authorities no help, Jonathan finds himself running out of options as he is forced into a complex blackmailing scheme operated by Wyatt.

Give "Deception" credit for this much: first-time director Marcel Langenegger sure knows how to make a great-looking movie. He and cinematography Dante Spinotti (2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand") have joined forces for a sleek and snazzy visual style with a color scheme of whites, blacks and blues that pop off the screen and paint Manhattan as a gloriously electric, potentially foreboding place where anything can happen. The film's first half, despite dropping some clumsily obvious clues about where things are headed, is absorbing as Jonathan gets swept up in a new lifestyle of casual one night stands and a revolving door of willing female participants. His first few meetings with the alluring and vulnerable S are also nicely played, and had director Langenegger continued to build this relationship in a meaningful, natural way, he might have been onto something. Alas, it is not to be.

As the shy, initially timid Jonathan, Ewan McGregor (2008's "Cassandra's Dream") excels beyond the limits of his role, building a stronger, more confident demeanor as his sexual prowess is put to the test. McGregor is well worth following in just about anything, but "Deception" makes this awfully difficult. The original idea of the list—a series of programmed phone numbers whose owners are open for sexual propositioning, day or night—is frivolously dropped midway through. From here, the film transforms into a shallow, exceedingly far-fetched thriller, its whole reason for existing resting on a convoluted and gimmicky screenplay by Mark Bomback (2007's "Live Free or Die Hard"). Since the title gives it away, it's no secret that Wyatt isn't who he says he is, and S probably isn't, either. That's fine and well, but the lengths that Wyatt goes to control Jonathan for his own devious motives is flagrantly ludicrous. The characters are merely pawns on a chess board, and their lack of humanity—or, at least, humanity not dictated by the machinations of the plot—is monotonous.

The climactic events, which demand that the viewer disregard some unsavory character revelations and giant leaps in logic—and yet, still care about the love story between Jonathan and S—is too much to swallow. In addition to Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman (2006's "The Prestige"), as the suavely crooked Wyatt, and Michelle Williams (2005's "Brokeback Mountain"), as Jonathan's object-of-affection S, are better than the material and do what they can with the strenuously dim-witted plot. It's all in vain, though. "Deception" trades in a provocative premise for a foolishly derivative one, and it's a doozy that no actors, no matter how talented, could save by themselves.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman