Once upon a time — well, the '80s — Hollywood used to make sexual thrillers. They weren't very good, but the studios tried. Mickey Rourke pumped away on Lisa Bonet and Madonna dripped candle wax on Willem Dafoe. Sharon Stone proved the carpet matched the drapes as a cringe-worthy Michael Douglas (who probably accounts for half the genre) demonstrated the finer points of rough sex. It was a heady time when A-list actresses (and Richard Gere) indulged in full frontal nudity. Then in 1999, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut tried to reclaim softcore porn as the domain of art-house cinema and everyone left the orgy. Or was it the Internet?
It's really a shame, because, when done right, cinematic sex can be pretty hot. There's no denying Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin's sexual tension in Sea of Love or the perverse titillation of Brian DePalma's Body Double. But looking over the last decade, the cin-sex landscape looks pretty neutered, aside from the teasing, indie S&M flick Secretary or Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain.
So, when the trailers started running for Deception (formerly titled The List), it looked like we'd be returning to those glorious days of Grade-A heaving torsos. Hardly. Despite the hunky presence of Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman, and the suggestion that Brokeback co-star Michelle Williams might want a few carnal moments of her own, the only heat this tepid thriller generates is the actors' embarrassment for signing on.
As suspected, a film that trades one generic title for another usually doesn't offer much originality. Working late one night, lonely corporate accountant Jonathan (McGregor) meets suave Wyatt (Jackman) and strikes up a friendship over a joint. Before long, he's getting dragged to swank nightclubs and borrowing Wyatt's $4,000 suits. When the two accidentally swap cell phones, Jonathan stumbles into a high-class sex club where elite folks meat, er ... meet. The buttoned-up accountant quickly finds himself sucked into a daisy chain of trysts before meeting blond bombshell, S (Williams), whom he falls for, which is, of course, against the sex-club rules. Murder, blackmail, double-crosses and kidnappings ensue.
Though slickly shot by Marcel Langenegger, the pacing and story offer few rewards. Mark Bomback's twisty script makes sense if you care to put the pieces together, but the contrivances and coincidences are so implausible and predictable, why bother? The characters are stock archetypes that spend so much time isolated from each other it kills the actor's chemistry and our concern. Jackman and McGregor have a few worthy moments early but, until the finale, spend the majority of the film communicating by mobile phone.
The sex is the biggest disappointment. Given the arousing promise of Deception's gold-plated "sex list," the film is intolerably chaste. Maggie Q and Charlotte Rampling briefly lounge around in Victoria's Secret underwear but there's little flesh-on-flesh. Even Natasha Henstridge, no stranger to buff acting, remains tastefully garbed. Worse, the sweaty lads of Brokeback are in no danger of being upstaged by Williams, who in the spirit of "true love" remains pure and sexless. It's safe to say that mrskin.com won't be featuring clips on its site.
Ultimately, the only thing deceptive about Deception is its trailer — the movie isn't much thrilling or sexual.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.