One of the producers of “Deception” says in the movie’s production notes that he views it as “something of a throwback to an earlier era of filmmaking.” He must be referring to the 1980s, because this feels like the kind of slick, mindless thriller Adrian Lyne used to make — for better and for worse.
For a while, it has the guilty-pleasure allure of a “9 1/2 Weeks” or a “Fatal Attraction,” and it certainly resembles the British director’s aesthetic with its handsome characters, urban setting and cool, steely grays and blues. Eventually, though, “Deception” collapses into such a ridiculous pile of plot twists and double crosses, that there’s nothing pleasurable about it — guilty or otherwise. It tries to deceive us into thinking it makes sense.
The director, for the record, is first-timer Marcel Langenegger, who works from a script by Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”). Together they’ve come up with one of those movies in which supposedly smart people do incredibly stupid things, and all you can do is stare at the screen and shake your head in disbelief.
Ewan McGregor puts on a hammy New York accent to star as Jonathan McQuarry, a lonely, naive accountant whose life consists of working late nights. While auditing an upscale law firm on one such night, he meets the mysterious Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman), a lawyer at the firm who saunters into the conference room where Jonathan is working and, in no time, offers to share a joint with him. It all happens so quickly and out of nowhere, you’d be excused for thinking the reels have been mixed up and you’ve started at the middle. (Wyatt is good enough, though, to explain to Jonathan upon introducing himself, “We met before in the can.” Thanks for that.)
Wyatt is suave, moneyed and confident — everything Jonathan isn’t, which fascinates him. The two are soon playing tennis by day and prowling for women by night (though the vaguely homoerotic vibe is unmistakable). One day, they “accidentally” swap cell phones while dashing off after a lunch. Then Wyatt’s phone starts ringing, and when Jonathan picks it up he hears the same greeting over and over: “Are you free tonight?”
Turns out this is code — it’s the way members of “The List,” an exclusive executive sex club, initiate meetings with each other. Intrigued by the female voice on the other end of the phone, Jonathan shows up at the Dylan Hotel at the scheduled time and has an anonymous romp with a gorgeous blonde (Natasha Henstridge). With Wyatt out of town, Jonathan now feels emboldened to embark on a string of flings with the women whose numbers he finds in his contact list, including Charlotte Rampling, who briefly classes up the proceedings, though her presence here is baffling.
If nothing else “Deception” does offer an impressive array of sexy lingerie. And it is sort of fun to watch Jonathan come out of his shell and into his own through these various encounters, especially if you can keep your brain from wandering toward such thoughts as: Are these people using a condom? Does “The List” screen for STDs? And how is it that someone with Hugh Jackman’s gorgeous looks needs to be a member of a club to find a sex partner in New York City?
Anyway, there’s one woman during all these escapades who knocks Jonathan on his butt, literally and figuratively. She will only divulge that her name begins with the letter S, and she’s played Michelle Williams, all glammed up in hair extensions and high heels to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. But, of course, S is not who she seems to be, and — surprise! — neither is Wyatt, if that’s even his real name.
We won’t give away the details of the deadly scheme that’s driving “Deception,” but suffice it to say, Jackman gets snarlier as the movie builds toward its over-the-top conclusion, hissing generic threats like, “You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
Jackman, who serves as one of the film’s producers, also has the impossibly uncanny ability to be everywhere, all the time. If he’s so crafty, couldn’t he have figured out what a dog this would be ahead of time, and said no?