Deception (2008)


Director: Marcel Langenegger

Groucho Marx once said he wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have someone like him for a member. And whether it’s the Ya Ya’s, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Little Rascals, or Fight Club, it seems as though Hollywood cinema’s growing increasingly cliquish. Yet, there seems to be something far more taboo about a movie that centers on a sex club. Let Brad Pitt and Edward Norton tear each other to shreds and make soap in Fincher’s film but when your main instigator for a plot is the existence of a sex club, filmmakers tend to get a bit cautious which is why director Marcel Langenegger’s film, initially named The List and then The Tourist ended up with Deception in a hopefully “third time’s the charm” strategy. Yet, as The San Francisco Chronicle noted, "Be wary of movies that change titles. It may mean the filmmakers don't know what they're making."

And in Deception’s case, that’s most likely true. Of course, the subject matter doesn’t help—unlike something as admirable as community service organizations, membership in an elite, secretive, anonymous sex club is not something you’d want to add to the Volunteer Experience section of your resume and most likely something people would want to keep private, much like attending each and every Star Trek Convention as your favorite character or for single girls who’ve always dreamed of a royal princess styled wedding, every so often dropping by boutiques in order to try on bridal gowns when they’re anything but engaged.

Indeed, and more than not wanting to belong to such a depraved club that would have someone like you for a member, it’s probably the same type of club where you wouldn’t exactly want to associate with anyone that would actually be a member as well as most likely neither one would respect the other in the morning. Besides, even if you did go out, you’d both have the dirty goods on each other for the rest of your life. Yet, just like I’ve heard friends and relatives swear they’d never date someone they met at a bar or nightclub, often they end up doing just that as in our hectic lives, proximity is key as it’s difficult to forge new friendships—let alone relationships post-college.

So the sad, lonely account Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor) whose temporary work auditing large corporations keeps him always on the go with few personal acquaintances is double the mark when he gets both a new best friend (producer and star Hugh Jackman) and falls for a beguiling blonde (Michelle Williams), also involved in “the list.” Of course, it doesn’t begin that way, although director Langenegger sets the film’s tone with the night time janitorial staff getting more action than our pathetic buttoned up, bespectacled hero before out of the blue he’s chatted up by an affable corporate lawyer named Wyatt (Jackman).

And although they wear identical crisp white shirts and business ties, their backgrounds couldn’t be more different as Wyatt shares his stories of privilege and Jonathan reveals a tragic, blue-collar background, yet it’s McGregor’s character that does most of the talking which owes as much to Jackman’s easygoing demeanor as it does to the social lubricant of marijuana. Having the best time since he’d attended a Van Halen concert as Jonathan girlishly gushes to his new B.F.F., he’s startled when Jackman notes that McGregor had talked for thirty seven minutes straight. Of course, the weed doesn’t do much for Jonathan’s memory of their talk but sensing a like-minded friend, the two begin hanging out, bonding quickly over doubles tennis with perky blondes until Jackman ups the ante by bringing him to a seedy nightclub.

While the meek and easily flustered McGregor, who admits that he’s only slept with four women, confesses that he once dialed an adult phone line but only worked up enough courage to offer professional tax advice on the woman’s new Escalade purchase, he does seem intrigued when he spots a beautiful blonde one night on the subway (Michelle Williams). And after Wyatt has to head to London to take care of a major business deal, he and Jonathan accidentally switch cell phones and it’s only a matter of time for Wyatt’s phone to begin ringing off the hook (if cell phones had hooks) with mysterious calls from women that begin with the question, “Are you free tonight?” Initially hesitant, McGregor follows through and becomes initiated into the group of elite working professionals too busy for a personal life. Eager to help him along the way is Forbes Magazine cover story subject Charlotte Rampling’s down-to-Earth woman who prefers not only “the economics of the arrangement,” but especially the idea of “intimacy without intricacy.” Additionally, it’s she who explains to him how exactly it all works.

The Rules of the List

Suddenly a convert to life on the list and obsessively taking part, Jonathan is thrown for a loop one night when the stranger he meets is none other than the woman he’d noticed at the subway (played by Michelle Williams). Feeling a bit creepy in recognizing someone from the outside world, he proceeds to break all the rules as they order room service and chat over dinner, fall asleep next to one another and go out again the next night. Intriguingly, she doesn’t reciprocate in Jonathan’s over-eagerness to divulge personal information and although the two connect, the lack of knowledge he knows about the woman he simply regards as “S” thanks to a ornament on her handbag becomes an increasingly major problem when she disappears and he’s the last one to see her alive.

With a suspicious detective all too eager to slap the cuffs on Jonathan, he quickly realizes what we have known all along which is to beware of smiling strangers offering candy or whatever version of “candy” that appeals to the Little Red Riding Hood in all of us. Of course, from the moment Jackman’s smooth-talking Wyatt sets foot onscreen, we knew that something was rotten in Denmark, or more precisely Manhattan and anyone who’s seen far superior works in the genre from The Spanish Prisoner to House of Games to Body Heat or Matchstick Men sees the major twist coming within the first ten minutes.

However, much to our annoyance, the purportedly bright Jonathan takes far too long to get a ticket to the clue bus and halfway through the movie I wanted to shout at him to walk into the nearest Blockbuster Video and rent not just the aforementioned films but also the Cinemax styled sleaze-fest Derailed (starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston) as he seemed to have walked right into a blender containing all of these films. While murder enters the equation as does mistaken identity and trickery, the twists never really manage to surprise (of course the film’s ultimate title after the previous two failures serves as a plot spoiling theme) and for a film that advertises itself as erotic, it’s downright icy and roughly as titillating as an episode of Antiques Roadshow.

Theatrical Trailer

While it’s pretty trash,y it may be worth watching just as a fan of the actors which is why I invested my time in it and Jackman shows a nice layer of subtle danger that should be explored in a better film. However, disappointingly McGregor slips in and out of a New York accent and Williams needed far more character development for us to care about her on anything other than a surface level as someone who’s admired her talent since Dawson’s Creek.

The standout of the film is in the cinematography by the legendary Dante Spinotti—an expert at filming noir-inspired night work with a quality distinctly his own (Heat, L.A. Confidential) which makes for a gorgeous widescreen DVD transfer, elevating the film and making it probably far more satisfying as a guilty B movie pleasure DVD than it was on the big screen.

With English, Spanish and French audio tracks and subtitles in both English and Spanish, the disc, recently released in stores, also contains directorial commentary, making of featurettes, additional footage and a T.M.I. (too much info) segment about the existence of actual sex clubs, but ultimately, I have to go back to the legendary Groucho Marx that overall, Deception is one club of which most viewers (including this one) wouldn’t want to become a member.