Deceiver (1997)

Basically the entire movie in a nutshell.

Prostitute Elizabeth (Renee Zellweger) is brutally murdered and police detectives Kennesaw (Michael Rooker) and Braxton (Chris Penn) are called in to investigate. The prime suspect is textile heir James Wayland (Tim Roth).

I never was a fan of movies that dramatically underestimated my intelligence and thus reduced everything to the lowest common denominator. However, Deceiver was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Deceiver clearly set out to be the smartest movie in existence. How does it do so?

When the major players in the movie are introduced, text explicitly showing the characters’ backgrounds are shown, so you know that Roth’s character is a Princeton grad with an IQ of 151. Rooker was of average intelligence and also held a college degree while Penn barely survived high school and worked as a Wal-Mart security guard prior to joining the force. Already, aside from Penn, the movie sets you up with intelligent characters.

The entire movie, more or less, is Penn and Rooker trying to administer a polygraph test on Roth, and Roth trying to beat it. At the same time, there were subplots involving Roth’s troubled childhood and Rooker’s marriage, among other things. The movie basically tried to do far too much, all with grandiose camera work and set design to keep the movie at times mysterious, creepy, or surreal, depending on what the two helms, Josh and Jonas Pate, decided to do at the time. Many of these scenes are filled with Roth delivering some sort of philosophical diatribe.

Don’t get me wrong, the acting in Deceiver was actually pretty good overall, especially on the part of Roth, but this is yet another instance I have seen where the acting talent was limited by the quality of the script they had to read. What kind of irked me was how Roth’s character was essentially just about every negative stereotype that movies have exploited about people coming from privileged families, namely how he was a spoiled brat with no direction in life and about as obviously Ivy League as a guy in a movie gets; at a party, some random guy asked him how the “Yale game” went. Despite the high intelligence quotient assigned to him, Roth’s character basically functioned as the typical cinematic jerk who didn’t need intelligence when money served as a nice substitute.

Basically EVERYONE, from the privileged Wayland to the more humble police detectives, really got under my skin. In fact, Deceiver was so focused on showing how completely despicable everyone was that it wasted scene upon scene of character development. It just got to a point where I didn’t even care who killed Renee Zellweger anymore and just wanted the movie to end. To top it off, the movie’s ending was just like Neon Genesis Evangelion’s in how it just worked as a way to keep people talking about it for far longer than they should. Overall, steer clear from this one. Despite how smart it wants you to think it is, Deceiver is below average. I would give it an A for effort, but then I remember I’m in engineering and realize giving grades based on the old college try doesn’t fly.

Score: 2/4

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