Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 99, 2013)
As many have noted over the last 15 years or so, Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s career stagnated and declined after he won an Oscar for 1996’s Jerry Maguire. Nonetheless, he continues to get a lot of work – IMDB lists him as a participant in multiple 2013 projects – so I guess the guy still manages to pay the bills.
For the latest from Gooding, we go to 2013’s direct-to-video thriller Absolute Deception. Thugs abduct and apparently kill Dennis Archer (Ty Hungerford), an informant for FBI Agent John Nelson (Gooding). When he finds Archer’s severed finger on the scene, he scans the database and learns that Archer is really Miles Scott, an American who allegedly died two years earlier.
Nelson notifies Miles’ wife Rebecca (Emmanuelle Vaugier) of this and lets her know that he was involved in some serious financial crimes in Australia; Miles planned to testify in exchange for immunity and was to enter protective custody when shot. A reporter, Rebecca digs around and finds out that Miles created an alternate life for himself after his original “death” – including a second wife (Kelly Atkinson).
Disturbed and intrigued, Rebecca heads to Australia to investigate her husband’s shenanigans for herself. There she ends up partnered with Nelson as they go deep into the case, with much danger along the way.
I always felt kind of bad for Gooding as he went through his fall from grace. Granted, I suspect many of his wounds were self-inflicted, as he chose a lot of bad projects - Boat Trip, anyone? – but I still thought he may’ve ended up on the “C”-list for reasons partially beyond his control.
Projects like Deception make me lose sympathy for Gooding, though, as I start to wonder if he actively attempts to sabotage his value as a credible actor. Even if we assume Gooding takes projects just for the paycheck, I can’t figure out what brought him to Deception, as it looks like it cost about $37 – how much could it have paid? The whole flick boasts a serious “bargain basement” vibe, as it comes across like something made in five days to run on basic cable.
The Grade Z production values do become amusing after a while, though. For instance, take a look at the explosion that pops up about halfway into this debacle; 10-year-olds on aging laptops could create more convincing effects than that. Michael Richard Plowman’s score also creates unintentional comedy with its relentlessly over the top cues; the music fills much of the movie and telegraphs each and every attempted moment of drama.
Not that director Brian Trenchard-Smith needs help in that department, as he seems plenty able to create a clumsy, easily predicted narrative on his own. Nothing happens here that the viewer can’t see in advance, and Trenchard-Smith tells the tale in an awkward, choppy manner with an emphasis on the obvious. He plays the twists to an extreme that robs them of any potential value.
The cast and characters don’t help. Nelson might be the dumbest, most gullible FBI agent ever to leave Quantico, and super-reporter Rebecca learns most of her discoveries by accident, not due to her wiles. The film’s attempts at witty banter/bonding between Nelson and Rebecca feel out of place and embarrass. They seem oddly glib as they deal with cold-blooded killers, and the forced romance between them seems goofy and not believable.
The actors do nothing to elevate their poorly written roles. Gooding sleepwalks through the part, and while lovely, Vaugier shows little acting talent. Still, they’re Tracy and Hepburn compared to the universally incompetent supporting performers, all of whom would be outclassed by the average community theater troupe.
Absolute Deception creates only one point of intrigue: what’s up with Vaugier’s super-thin eyebrows? They take on a life of their own – and make one wonder if the movie’s budget went entirely toward the massive tweezing team that must’ve been required to keep them so damned skinny. Those eyebrows perplex and amaze but they’re not enough to keep me with this woeful thriller.