Perhaps you’ve heard the old expression, “You can’t polish a turd.” Apparently, it dates back to an age when people mistakenly attempted to polish them in hopes of, I dunno, exhibiting them at the county fair.
But, as it turns out, you can’t really polish a turd. And you shouldn’t even try to, come to think of it. The point is, you can’t dress something up in pretty clothes and hide what an undesirable mess it is underneath. No, we’re not talking about Lindsay Lohan, but you’re on the right track.
The new erotic thriller Deception feels like it began in a brainstorming session. That’s the only place where this bad idea wouldn’t be acknowledged as a bad idea. Not even remotely believable from the opening scene, Deception tries to fill your eyes but not your brain; it teases you with lurid, anonymous sex in hopes that you won’t see how empty its story truly is.
And here’s a little note for director Marcel Langenegger, making his debut with Deception: We’ve seen sex scenes before, and at this point, they have to be pretty spectacular to even keep our interest, much less cloud our minds from the absence of a story with forward momentum and reasonable characters and activity.
The sex interrupts a poorly disguised con executed by slick, smooth talking Wyatt (Hugh Jackman) on poor, nervous Jonathan (Ewan McGregor). Wyatt introduces his new acquaintance into the good life of easy money and easier women, and soon, Jonathan is seducing perfect strangers in hotel rooms all over New York. Could happen to anyone, really.
The one catch in this sex club is that names aren’t allowed, so when he meets a beautiful woman he wants for more than sex (Michelle Williams, somehow looking both radiant and frail), Jonathan is caught up in Wyatt’s dangerous game.
While Deception does have that cool, gunmetal-washed urban vibe about it, the style is so much greater than the substance that you get tired of waiting for a story that begs to be guessed to catch up with characters too obvious to not know what’s going on (and yet somehow they don’t).
There are surprises here, but none of them are good. Ewan McGregor’s accent trips him up countless times, Jackman is not a natural heavy and looks uncomfortable in the role, and there’s not enough of Michelle Williams, frankly. In her limited time, she really does stand head and shoulders above the rest of the fray.
One final note: If you’ve seen Derailed, the Jennifer Aniston-Clive Owen erotic thriller, well, this is basically a lower rent version of that one. So save your cash.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams
Directed by Marcel Langenegger