Deception | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Sex, lies and misplaced cell phones make up this twisty thriller.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, the megaplexes frequently unspooled cautionary tales of greed, chicanery and the ill-advised pursuit of unrealistically hot sexual encounters. Stop, these films screamed at the frantic protagonist in their outrageous last reels, or you'll lose everything: your family, career, reputation, savings, personal liberty or even your life. Those characters were the 100-foot-tall suckers crafted to let us vicariously enjoy their sins (cue unrealistically hot sexual encounters) while still leaving the theater smug -- we would never trade our dull lives for such a rapid descent into hell, however beguiling the tempter.

Somewhere around 1993 (when even silly Madonna got into the act with Body of Evidence), the genre lost steam. But because stupid people tricks involving sex, lies and money never really go out of style, new iterations continue to pop up.

The latest entry is the economically titled Deception, the debut feature from Marcel Langenegger and penned by Mark Bomback, who also gave us 2004's Godsend, a cautionary tale about cloning your dead kid.

The set-up is patently obvious, but not to Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor), a lonely loser and freelance auditor of fancy firms.

One night, working at a law office, he meets Wyatt Boze (Hugh Jackman), a jovial sleek suit with a naughty edge. A shared late-night doobie, a tennis game, a few laughs, and the two are new best friends. And how Jonathan wished he could live like the insouciant Wyatt, who's just now jetting off to London.

Oh, wait! They got their cell phones mixed up. When Wyatt's rings, Jonathan answers; a sexy-sounding woman purrs, "Are you free tonight?" and -- here it comes, the first wrong move -- Jonathan says yes.

At the rendezvous, he discovers he's just joined a secret sex club where dozens of gorgeous, young, hot successful women are looking for dull accountants for no-strings-hook-ups in luxury hotels. (Remember, a guy made this story up.) The only rules of Sex Club are: no names, no business talk and no rough stuff.

Then, a beautiful, fragile blonde known only as "S" (Michelle Williams) makes a date, and things start to go awry. Jonathan and S just talk (what a waste of a super-secret, white-linen sex club!); they pine and giggle like teen-agers. They meet again -- for dinner in Chinatown, then book a room upstairs.

Before you can say "I'll be back with the ice," S disappears, Jonathan's covered in blood and Wyatt wants his phone back, and then some.

I'll stop there. Either you've already figured it out, or, if not, prepared to be shocked. Deception's storyline is as dated as dead rabbits and meeting the cops without underpants on; only the tech-toys are new. And it follows a similar pattern -- an intriguing set-up followed by a Big Twist, followed by a lot of smaller twists, each making less and less sense. (Do screenwriters even live in our world? One bit of plot resolution counts on getting a new passport overnight.)

That said, if you can handle another fatal attraction, Deception ambles along companionably, pretending, if not quite succeeding, to be smarter than it is. And to that end, let us buy a round of stylish cocktails for Jackman and McGregor, two capable actors who should know better, yet once on board play this hoary who's-zooming-who thriller straight.

Partners in sexy-time crime: Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor

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