Strip out “Deception’s” fleeting nudity and what’s left is a throwback to “B” movie days — a thin thriller, burdened by clunky dialogue and prone to telegraphing its twists. Although the story is steeped in sexuality, commercials director Marcel Langenegger’s feature debut doesn’t feel particularly steamy, deriving what little holding power it can generate from producer-star Hugh Jackman’s turn as a seductive con man opposite Ewan McGregor’s buttoned-up, bespectacled accountant. On the coolness scale, Wolverine vs. Obi-wan Kenobi it isn’t, auguring a relatively quick theatrical exit to make way for summer blockbusters.
Written by Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”), the story starts promisingly enough. Jonathan (McGregor) is working late in a conference room auditing a law firm, when a handsome attorney, Jackman’s Wyatt Bose, drops by to chat. They share a joint together, engage in some rapid male bonding and inadvertently swap cell phones right before Wyatt jets off on a business trip to London.
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Said phone, however, is really an opening to all manner of debauchery — providing entry into Wyatt’s wild life, and introducing the shy Jonathan to a male-pattern fantasy about anonymous sex with beautiful women. The gauzy, montage-friendly encounters that ensue include a mysterious dream girl (Michelle Williams), whom Jonathan can only identify as “S” from the letter on her key ring.
Given the title, it comes as not much of a revelation to say that Wyatt is not all he seems, drawing Jonathan into a web of intrigue, with Wyatt pulling the strings.
By that point, however, whatever ingenuity the film might have offered has long since dissipated, and the sequences that put Jackman and McGregor together become fewer and further between. Nor does their potential battle of wits develop enough to yield many fireworks, beyond whatever natural charisma the two possess.
Langenegger and cinematographer Dante Spinotti opted to shoot part of the action using a new digital-video camera, but that’s about the only fresh wrinkle to be found here, and only manages to make the Manhattan trysts look more like a Lancome ad. The soft-core porn aspects of the plot, meanwhile, merely create a convenient excuse to rush various actresses through the proceedings (Natasha Henstridge, Maggie Q and Charlotte Rampling among them) in what amount to cameos.
That haste is a shame, since even a bit more insight into these women might have resulted in a richer (if more European-style) movie. Moreover, in terms of both screen time and dimension, Williams fares only slightly better.
Then again, even McGregor spends most of his time looking understandably baffled and boyish, without undergoing the sort of rising-to-the-challenge arc that would make his Everyman character genuinely interesting opposite Jackman’s menacing rogue.
“Are you free tonight?” becomes the movie’s signature line, a coded phrase for Jonathan’s liaisons.
Should that offer pertain to seeing “Deception” — unless the alternative is truly unappealing — a reasonable response would be, “Nope, I’m busy.”