[Screen It]

(2008) (Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A meek accountant finds his world turned upside down -- in more ways than one -- when his new lawyer friend introduces him to a sex club.
Jonathan McQuarry (EWAN McGREGOR) is a meek accountant who works as an audit manager, spending short amounts of time at various high profile firms doing the books and, in his own words, watching the world pass him by. Thus, he's drawn to Wyatt Bose (HUGH JACKMAN), a handsome and polished lawyer who befriends him late one night when both are working well past closing time.

When Jonathan ends up with Wyatt's phone and vice-versa, and Wyatt says he's been called to London for business, the accountant gets a peek inside his new friend's life. That's particularly true regarding a sex club where members call others for an evening of casual and anonymous sex, no strings or commitment attached.

Initially reluctant to participate, Jonathan soon becomes a willing member, enjoying a number of liaisons with various women. But when he meets a woman (MICHELLE WILLIAMS) he previously ran into on the subway, he wants to take things slower with her. Since all members are to remain anonymous, he only knows her by her first initial, S, and the two eventually end up in a hotel room.

His world then turns upside down, however, when he returns from getting some ice to find blood in the room and an assailant who knocks him out. When he comes to, S is gone, as is the blood, prompting police Det. Russo (LISA GAY HAMILTON) to doubt his story.

Upset and confused about what's happened, Jonathan tries to find S, only to discover that she's been kidnapped and he's being blackmailed in exchange for her well-being. From that point on, the accountant sets out to find out what he can about the kidnapper, all while trying to locate and save his new love.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a general rule of thumb, most people aren't crazy about deception. After all, with corporate and political scandals seemingly always in the headlines, and relationships ending due to one or both parties cheating on the other, people are becoming ever more fed up with misleading statements, subterfuge and the old basic lie.

That is, except when it comes to entertainment, namely in the form of games and sports (a chess move that fools an opponent, a fake handoff that results in a touchdown, for instance) as well as fiction (mostly regarding whodunits and anything falling into the suspense/thriller genre).

After all, without creative deception in the latter category, the fun in trying to solve some mystery or the sheer enjoyment of twists, turns and knock-your-socks-off revelations is all but absent. And without that in that particular form of entertainment, what's the point in participating and/or sitting through it?

All of which leads to this review of "Deception," a sordid adult thriller of the types of which used to be commonplace decades ago when the likes of Joe Eszterhas was penning them and Adrian Lyne was behind the camera. You know, offerings such as "Basic Instinct" and "Fatal Attraction" where sex lured men into all sorts of trouble, and the "fun" was in watching them try to squirm their way out of that.

Here, Ewan McGregor plays a nebbish sort of audit-based accountant whose life consists of working late and watching the world pass him by. Enter the dashing and confidant lawyer played by Hugh Jackman who befriends the number cruncher, gets him to loosen up, and then, seemingly by accident, indirectly introduces him to an underground sex club where anonymous folks hook up via a dial up for a little no-strings-attached hanky panky.

The abundant and easy sex soon seduces Jonathan, while his heart ends up longing for the literal stranger on a train (okay, subway to be exact) character played by Michelle Williams. Both end up getting him into loads of trouble as he soon learns that things in this sort of world aren't as cut and dried as balancing the books. From that point on, he scrambles to extricate himself from the mess, all while trying to save the girl and defeat the villain.

That's all fine and dandy, but for a film that's all about deception, the filmmakers -- writer Mark Bomback and director Marcel Langenegger -- don't do a particularly good job of beguiling the viewer, particularly if the latter has seen the aforementioned films or countless others of their ilk.

Simply put, if that's the case or anyone watching has a few ounces of common sense, most every plot twist and surprise will be seen or figured out long before they arrive. As a result, there's little to no suspense and even less thrills for this genre entry. And despite the sexual content, it isn't salacious or sensationalistic enough to be titillating on even that level, something at least some of its predecessors excelled at, thus giving them a quantitative, guilty pleasure aura.

Like the overall film, the performances by McGregor and Jackman are generally competent enough (Williams is less so, mostly due to the script), but they similarly lack any sort of spark or sizzle to make them stand out, let alone come off as memorable. And since it seems like so many similarly themed and/or plotted films that have preceded it, that's exactly the sort of thing the pic is crying out for.

Mediocre but otherwise coming off like a copycat sordid thriller wannabe that might have been made in the 1980s to profit off the success paved by the likes of Eszterhas and Lyne, "Deception" doesn't live up to its descriptive title. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 21, 2008 / Posted April 25, 2008

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