What goes through a movie star’s head when they’re acting in a really generic movie? Are they hoping: maybe it’s not as bad as I think? Or do they know, even as they schlep through yet another tired and derivative scene, that the scene is tired, and derivative, and that some things you just do for money… for a new boat. Deception (the new erotic thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman) is so formulaic it needn’t even have been made. The producers could have written on the poster: “just think of [blank] and save yourself some money!” and even if nothing came to mind, you would be more thrilled than if you’d sat through this machine-tooled piffle.
Ninety per cent of what we learn about the characters we learn from their hair. Ewan McGregor has a fringe, ergo he is: virginal, naïve, a wallflower. Ewan works an accountant (read: nothing) for a big corporation. He has no friends. Life has misplaced his number. Then one day he meets Hugh Jackman, an executive (read: snake) with a line on an anonymous sex group strictly for high-fliers. It’s the sort of group you just know Donald Trump would like to belong to (if such groups didn’t keep misplacing his number) and Ewan jumps at the chance when Hugh asks him to join. But beware, Ewan! This sex-with-no-strings thing isn’t Hollywood. Like taking the money to star in Deception; this bargain comes at a price.
There are two kinds of movies Ewan McGregor tends to star in: those that make him famous and those that pay the rent. In the “famous” category you have movies like Moulin Rouge and Star Wars. In the “rent” category you have… a hell of a lot to choose from. McGregor is not the world’s pickiest of actors and he’ll sign up for any nonsense provided someone will agree to fund his next motorbike trip. In Deception, you’d be hard pushed to think of another actor who couldn’t have played this role, and McGregor is just as dull and substitute-teacher-reedy as the script needs him to be.
Hugh Jackman (taking a break from super-heroes and the demented masterpiece that was The Fountain) doesn’t have much to do but smile and look disingenuous in Deception, but he does both with that good-natured charisma that’s gotten him through worse than this. His job is to hand Ewan a phone and get off screen for much of the proceedings, but he manages to do this and make us want him to return (so he must be doing something right). Where McGregor always seems a bit just-put-a-wart-on-me! (read: Method actor) to convince you he enjoys being a movie star, Jackman has a kind of huckster-debonair that convinces you he LOVES being a star. Just watch him roaming his hands over Michelle Williams or relishing the big, pull-out-the-stops f-word he uses after telling McGregor about foreplay.
Michelle Williams is also in the movie, acting “also in the movie” style. She’s required to be the blonde, and she does so with an expression like a latte that’s not too frothy.
The girl from Species turns up as a corpse.
Every interesting angle this story could have taken, the producers figured they’d do without. The anonymous sex group disappears after the half-way mark; the vague hints at identity-shifting are junked; Michelle Williams becomes the Love Interest for Ewan after one date (as I say, you know he won’t be allowed no-strings anonymous sex for long). It’s as if any wavering from absolute forget-ability is a risk the movie can’t afford. So Ewan adopts a look like a man Struggling to Understand; people scheme and plot against him until he Finds His Resolve; and the bad-guy is shot in a park, by exactly who we think is going to shoot him. Only no-one is around to notice his death, because everyone’s busy watching something else.