As a thriller, 'Deception' is guaranteed to mystify its audiences

December 17, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Deception," which opens today at Westview Cinemas, is such a drab title that surely we here in this department can do better. Why not call it "Dead Men Don't Write Checks," for it's about a seemingly dead man who writes some checks.

Or what about "Andie's World Cruise Vacation," for that's what it's really about: former model and current quasi-actress Andie McDowell going to exotic places, posing fetchingly against a backdrop of Third World poverty and despair. It's sort of like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue without the swimsuits.

We could also call it "Liam's Shame," for Liam Neeson, winning hearts and minds among the literati for his performance in "Schindler's List," is occasionally glimpsed amid the wreckage of "Deception" playing a big, lummoxy, sensitive doctor. He's awful. In "Schindler's List," take it from me, he's great. In this one, hoo boy, he really reeks. Nothing but poetic moping toward the eye of the lens.

That suggests another title: "Andie and Liam Mope Poetically." Hmmm, think marketing would go for that?

Anyway, the film is a big, stupid international thriller that grows more preposterous with each reel until it finally reaches a crescendo of utter folly when Mexican hit men in two-tone shoes blow away a dishonest American pilot at a country fair in the slums of Cairo in front of his wife (McDowell) whose expression hasn't changed one iota in two hours!

Andie! Take some of that Oil of Olay money and invest in some acting lessons!

The movie is set up as an investigation of a death, after the fashion of "The Third Man" but without the rigorous plotting. Without any plotting, in fact.

McDowell, a mother of three living in squalid circumstances in Los Angeles, learns that her beloved husband, a low-rent pilot, has crashed and burned in Mexico. When she goes down to investigate, however, she begins to suspect that . . . Everything Isn't What It Seems.

She finds his baseball cards with strange markings on them, and soon deduces that he'd never deface an original Topps 1967 Orlando "Baby Bull" Cepeda without a darn good reason. The markings, it turns out, are a code for worldwide bank accounts.

This leads to a tedious subplot that might be titled: "Colorful Bank Tellers the World Over." But even as she's looting his accounts, she's aware that she's being followed by the men in the two-tone shoes. And she's beginning to suspect that maybe her husband's not dead.

This in turn leads to a nebulous conspiracy, utterly unconvincing, about a relief organization that ships poison-gas components among its sacks of grain.

Nothing in the movie seems real. "Deception" is less a movi than some clever accountant's tax write-off scheme, and that's the only clever thing about it.

"Deception"

Starring Andie McDowell and Liam Neeson

Directed by Grahame Clifford

Released by Goldwyn

Rated R

*

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