Deception isn’t deceiving anybody, except maybe the folks who slapped that idiotically generic title on it. All right, so its original title, The Tourist, wasn’t much better, nor was its second working title, The List. The latter had to go so all the people who had wisely avoided last year’s faith-based “thriller” bearing that same name wouldn’t confuse the two movies. I guess they figured that Deception was at least better than Transparently Obvious Glossy Thriller. The problem is that a stinkweed by any other name still smells.
What we have here is a slickly produced flick with a couple of cool stars (Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman), an appealing female lead (Michelle Williams), nice guest turns for Maggie Q, Natasha Henstridge and the always welcome Charlotte Rampling, along with some attractive locations. Production values, stars, guest stars and locations are, alas, all much better than the script.
The promotional material—including the story that 20th Century Fox backed off the project at one point because it was “too racy”—suggests something much hotter than the movie delivers. Oh, there’s a fair amount of sex and some skin (for those interested, McGregor seems to have passed the stage in his career where his trousers fall to the floor with wild abandon), but it’s fairly tepid stuff—unless you simply don’t get out much.
The story line is at once preposterous and painfully predictable. McGregor—sporting a slightly dodgy New York accent—plays Jonathan McQuarry (could the name be any more obvious?), a singularly dull accountant who wanders in to examine the books of various companies. Since McQuarry is such a transitory figure, the people at the companies don’t usually bother getting to know him. However, this changes when he meets Wyatt Bose (Jackman), a smooth operator of a lawyer with charisma to spare. Bose gets McQuarry stoned and listens to him prattle, takes him out and shows him a good time, and in the end makes a pal out of him.
The plot proper kicks in when McQuarry and his new friend get their cell phones mixed up and McQuarry finds himself on the receiving end of a phone call from a woman asking him if he’s free that evening. As it turns out, the lady won’t be dissuaded. McQuarry meets her and soon finds he’s become involved in an anonymous sex club. Bose has conveniently left the country at this point, and tells his friend to use the phone and the club and to enjoy himself—something that works out fine until McQuarry finds himself face to face with “S” (Michelle Williams), a woman he’s been fixated on since he saw her in the subway station weeks earlier. Of course, falling in love and getting into a relationship are not in the club bylaws, but that doesn’t matter to McQuarry.
Going further into the plot would be unfair to the movie, but it’s hard not to realize from the title that someone’s being deceived (gee, who could that be?) and that others are not who they seem (another puzzler of similar merit). As the movie huffs and puffs its way to its predestined conclusion, it offers us such distractions as an exploding apartment (outtakes from 2001’s 15 Minutes, perhaps?) with resultant misidentified corpse, double crosses, double-double crosses and one of those concepts that suggests anyone could drain $20 million from a bank account with a little computer savvy—there are so many holes that you could use a slice of the movie as the perfect topper to a ham sandwich. All of it amounts to an awful lot of effort to arrive at a showdown with a conclusion that’s far more apt to generate giggles than the intended gasp of surprise. Rated R for sexual content, language, brief violence and some drug use.