Directed by Michael M. Scott
Towards the start of Netflix’s latest thriller, our main character Katie (Mendes) drives through a lovely looking suburb – the sort of place Lynch or Carpenter could turn into a hotbed of riddles and intrigue. Then, in a move that resembles the meta-exposition bits where Bojack Horseman does a flashback, we get a haunting voice singing “nothing’s what it seems girl”. She goes on until we see the sort of big house where you just know something murderous is going to happen. Welcome to Dangerous Lies: a film that’s so good at being so bad it’s good, that it just becomes bad again.
The house belongs to her wealthy client Leonard (Gould); an older man, with seemingly no other social contacts, who Katie cares for. She couldn’t possibly afford the place of course – a message repeated ad nauseam after she returns to her far more modest apartment and her husband Adam (Usher). He’s been in a bad mood lately. Aside from having recently stopped a robbery, in a soft opening that sort of comes back later, they’ve been going through tough times financially. Oh, and he “hates being poor”. So surprise, surprise: Leonard unexpectedly, but also really darn expectedly, dies. Equally unexpectedly, but also really darn expectedly, he leaves all of his earnings to Katie despite knowing her for about four months. Detective Chesler (Alexander) thinks something is amiss – which it would be if anyone in this film knew more than two other people. Whereas Adam is suspiciously delighted, seeing it as an end to their financial woes. Particularly given he earlier stumbled across a chest full of money when they went looking around. Throw in a sleazy real estate agent named Mickey (Gigandet), who may as well be wearing a “suspect me” badge, plus the news that Leonard’s old gardener is gone, and you got all the makings of a lazy mystery.
Maybe the worst thing about Dangerous Lies is it’s near-impressively myopic world-building. Given its ostensibly a mystery, with a whodunit at its core, it’s strange to see a non-corpse/ non-cop/ non-Katie cast of just four named people. Particularly given one of them doesn’t appear until after the halfway point. This isn’t necessarily to say if any of them dunit – after all, Netflix has gone with the complete stranger killer twist before, with Open House. But it is to say the film’s very unlikely to satisfy fans of sleuthing. It’s solution is roughly as complex as an episode of Scooby Doo. This is something I could look past, were the characters not also as 2D as Scooby Doo. Most of Adam’s scenes involve him muttering about money, in a way presumably meant to make him a prime suspect. And Katie, who should be our leading lady, is such a poorly defined protagonist that she doesn’t even have any friends written in. Prompting a strange scene in which she confides in her employer’s lawyer.
Still, it’s an enjoyable popcorn flick right? Wrong. Dangerous Lies is a film of two halves. The first is slow, with samey exposition scenes underlining every last plot point regardless of how much it’s already been done (“did I mention we’re broke?”). This gives way to a mismatched second, which watches like a string of rushed reveals – none of which are especially interesting. Nor are they explored long enough to have any impact. It makes me wonder where the heck the time even went, though not in the way I expect director Michael M. Scott would have intended. It’s neither suspenseful nor silly enough to work. Look, its ridiculous name should be all you need to decide if Dangerous Lies is for you or not: it could come from a straight to TV ‘psychological thriller’ name generator. Which is fitting since its basically another Lifetime movie elevated to Netflix, presumably geared towards being a guilty pleasure. To an extent it manages to achieve this, though it fails to live up to the sorts of heightened drama and ridiculous twists fans of this sort of film will have come to expect. Which makes me wonder if writer David Golden was in denial about the kind of script he was doing. Still, it’s better than last year’s Secret Obsession and at least twice the film – not that this is saying much since it’s still only two stars.