Anchor Bay // 2009 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 14th, 2009
Nothing is what it seems.
"If honesty doesn't work, try role play!"
Wes Wilson (Christian Slater, True Romance) is a non-fiction writer famous for penning a book about relationships. The basic premise of his book is that if there is no honesty in the relationship, it simply can't work. Wes is happily engaged to a beautiful young woman named Samantha (Sarah Ann Schultz, Blonde Ambition), but their time together is cut short by a group of thugs led by a villainous criminal mastermind named Isaac (Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire). Samantha is abducted and eventually presumed dead. After a year, her finances and property are turned over to Wes, who is still attempting to get over a strong case of writer's block. As he travels across the country collecting Samantha's possessions from creepy old houses and safety deposit boxes, Wes realizes that his fiancée might not have been the sort of woman he thought she was. Even worse, Isaac's henchmen are stalking Wes. What was Samantha's big secret, and what does Wes now possess that Isaac so desperately wants?
There's something about the combination of the uninspired title, the presence of Christian Slater and Cuba Gooding Jr., and the dull-as-a-doorknob packaging that strongly suggests Lies and Illusions is just another crappy straight-to-DVD thriller. Upon further exploration, one will discover that the film is precisely that. This is tedious stuff that seems to have been crafted by a group of poorly programmed screenwriting droids, who undoubtedly utilized their entire library of cinematic clichés in the service of putting together a film they felt would be audience-pleasing. I've seen plenty of films that seem to be going through the motions, but most of them at least make a half-hearted attempt at getting us to care. Lies and Illusions has the distinct whiff of a piece of crap made by people who unhappily realize it is a piece of crap.
The stylish James Bond-inspired animated title sequence attempts to suggest that we're in for a sexy thriller, though the film is neither sexy nor thrilling. Sure, the obligatory Bond-esque elements are included: a tango dance sequence in an expensive-looking banquet hall, a well-spoken villain who enjoys delivering monologues, two different attractive women for the main character to fall in love with and/or get betrayed by, and a considerable measure of tuxedos and martinis. Alas, Lies and Illusions isn't even half as much fun as the very worst Bond film. It's helmed by veteran hack Tibor Takacs, whose recent work includes such esteemed films as Rats, Mansquito (aka Mosquitoman), Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep, Ice Spiders, and Mega Snake. This one may not be about some deadly creature, but it certainly is a dog. Thank you, thank you, I'm here the rest of the week.
The plotting and dialogue are forgettable and bland most of the time, but they become excruciatingly bad whenever the film attempts to insert some comic relief into the proceedings. One of Isaac's top henchmen is played by Robert Giardina (Where Angels Dance), whose evil nature is given away by his terrible haircut. Anyway, the ongoing gag is that Giardina's character has read Slater's self-help book and likes it quite a lot. So, you've got plenty of scenes where this hardened criminal talks about the importance of relating to the person you're in a deep relationship with. The filmmakers evidently found this stuff hilarious, because these moments are filled with long pauses seemingly designed to allow audience laughter to die down. Instead, what you get are long, uncomfortable silences in which other actors have the sort of looks on their faces that a group of people have when one member of the group farts in an enclosed space.
The performances are, to put it kindly, horrible. Slater was once a viable leading man, but he seems thoroughly unconvincing in this film. He's not particularly credible as a self-help writer, and he's even less credible as a man coming to terms with the fact that his life is crumbling around him. "I'm just a writer!" he insists repeatedly, as if the mantra will somehow put everything in perspective for us. Even worse is Cuba Gooding Jr., who makes absolutely no effort whatsoever to provide anything other than basic line readings. After years of misguided, over-the-top performances, it would seem that Gooding has finally just given up and decided to stop trying. Any time Gooding offers one of those standard-issue bad-guy declarations that are scattered throughout the screenplay, one can't help but laugh at how remarkably non-threatening it sounds. Gooding probably displays twice as much emotion when he's ordering a salad at a restaurant.
The transfer is pretty slick and clear, though it disappoints during the darker scenes. Blacks aren't particularly deep and the darker scenes have a tendency to slip into murky incomprehensibility. During daylight hours, the image is well-balanced and sharp, though color bleeding is a minor problem (particularly when Slater puts on a hot pink robe). Facial detail is somewhat lacking at times, occasionally displaying evidence of DNR. Audio is similarly adequate, with the schizophrenic original score and semi-obtrusive sound design receiving a decent mix. Dialogue is a bit too muffled at times, particularly in contrast to a couple of the score cues. The only extra on the disc is a brief making-of featurette offering interviews with unsurprisingly bored-looking participants.
Wes likes to place importance on honesty, so let's be honest: though this dull film is occasionally unintentionally funny ("If you don't do what I tell you, I'll put two more holes in her and I don't mean the good kind!"), Lies and Illusions is a certified dud. Don't let this one slip into your Netflix queue.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R