It’s all work and no play for Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor). The mousy accountant, working late one night in a cold, impersonal law office endures insult added to injury when he spies a couple of graveyard shift janitors going into the bathroom to get it on.
Things begin looking up, though, when a suave lawyer named Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman) suddenly appears and shines his alpha male rays on the gray scene, showing interest in the wallflower accountant’s life, smoking a joint with him, and inviting him to play tennis the next day. A bro-mance is born, and Deception begins.
As one reviewer has noted, Deception is like an Adrian Lyne film on steroids. No sooner are we introduced to our characters then psychosexual drama kicks in, and it kicks in fast. But first, the film must cement in our minds that Wyatt “player” Bose gets a lot action, and Jonathan “no game” McQuarry gets nothin’. Sample dialogue: Wyatt: “How many women have you been with?” Jonathan: “I don’t know.” Wyatt: “Of course you know; everyone knows.” After Jonathan reveals his paltry number, he asks Wyatt the same question. Wyatt: “I have no idea.” Jonathan: “I thought you said everyone knows.” Wyatt: “I meant everyone like you.” Zing!
After more frat-boy power-chuckling sessions and pissing contests, Jonathan and Wyatt “accidentally” switch phones before Wyatt heads off to London for an important business trip of indefinite length. (I was actually surprised that these scenes didn’t lead to a heated and lustful exchange between the two back in the locker room, so tense and filled with sex-talk was their conversation.)
That night, Jonathan gets a call from a sultry woman (Natasha Henstridge) from whom he learns that Wyatt is a member of an elite, invitation-only sex club for Manhattan’s power brokers. The rules are simple: no names, no rough stuff, and the person who calls and asks “Are you free tonight?” pays for the hotel room. Naturally, he partakes, even with the sexy 60-something Charlotte Rampling, one of many of his anonymous paramours we see having acrobatic sex with him in cheesy MTV-style montages.
Like the sex scenes in Deception, the film itself is cold and remote, and as viewers, we merely go through the motions watching this genre piece, waiting for yet another tired move, until the whole thing is done with. Once Jonathan falls for “S”, (Michelle Williams), a beautiful and mysterious woman he’s seen before and who is next on The List, all of the pieces of the (very obvious) puzzle come together and the absurd events culminate into an inevitably hysterical end.
Although Deception has all the elements of a good thriller, they just don’t congeal, and we never feel more about it than we would a slick music video. (This is not surprising, since Langenegger directed music videos before directing this, his first feature film.) The premise of borrowed identity is promising, but instead of really delving into that idea, the film is more intent on introducing more convoluted plot twists.
As for the usually likeable A-list actors, their performances seem like exercises in playing types. Hugh Jackman gives it his hammy best in his performance as a charming sociopath, Ewan MacGregor bumbles along as awkward Jonathan (with a ridiculous New Yawk accent that never gets better), and Michelle Williams, doing her best to play a mysterious Film Noir-esque siren, is so wan and world-weary I began to suspect she was a heroin addict in the middle of a nod. Even the gorgeous cinematography suffers from cliché overload: it paints a moody picture of a Manhattan painted in gray-blue coldness on Wall Street and golden-red warmth in Chinatown.
Deception treats the only spark that keeps this film alive – the momentary but genuine feeling that develops between Jonathan and “S”,—as a mere plot twist, rather than as its center. It seems more interested in serving the crazy plot than it is in giving life to the characters in its story.
Even though it’s unfair to compare the lame Deception with Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo, I’ve been thinking a lot about my favorite thriller and the fact that even though it has enough plot twists to out-pretzel Deception, it never forgot that at the center of its convoluted mess of a plot were the beating hearts of two misbegotten characters in love.
The DVD Bonus Features for Deception include interviews with the director and various people associated with the film, showing how many well-meaning people it takes to create a bloodless, soulless film.