Synopsis – When a wealthy elderly man dies and unexpectedly leaves his estate to his new caregiver, she’s drawn into a web of deception and murder. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to question everyone’s motives – even the people she loves.
My Take – I have to admit I have a thing for thrillers from the 90s, hence the titillating title of this new Netflix Original was enough to garner my interest, and then the synopsis about an old man leaving everything to his caretaker, seemed very reminiscent of the delightful whodunit, Knives Out.
Of course keeping expectations at bay, I was conspicuous to the unique kind of screenplay and humor this film would lack, factors that made the Rian Johnson directorial such winner, but instead went in contemplating a straight-to-VHS knockoff of one of the best films of last year.
However, despite the intriguing plot elements, the film just lacked the taste and direction for a thriller, and worst of all, it does not contain any kind of intrigue usually required to make murder mysteries work. There are multiple times during the film that I was left scratching my head, dumbfounded by the thought processes I was witnessing. Yes, the characters in thrillers typically make boneheaded decisions leaving the audience moaning and even screaming at them, but this was worse. Not only were the decisions and actions absurd, somehow they’d just be left out the rest of the narrative.
Director Michael M. Scott and writer David Golden, who share a history of making films for Hallmark Channel, clearly miss the mark here and stack cliché after cliché, all leading up to a formulaic and unsatisfying ending which leaves you feeling dumbfounded at the laziness in execution.
Nevertheless, despite all that, I must say the film at least keeps you thoroughly engaged for its run time. Making it one of those Netflix films that appeal to masses looking for an undemanding narrative, and hoping to be kept entertained during currently instated worldwide lock down.
The story follows Katie (Camila Mendes) and Adam (Jessie T. Usher), a couple who have been stuck in a financial bind for some time, with Katie working nights at a Chicago diner, just trying to make ends meet until Adam finishes his post graduate degree. However, their lives take a drastic change when the two find themselves in the diner in the middle of a robbery. While Katie’s pleas to let matters run at its course, Adam intervenes and subdues the robber.
Now four months later, Katie is working as an agency assigned caregiver for Leonard (Elliott Gould), a wealthy older man who lives alone in his house. Growing close over time, Leonard offers to financially help Katie, who instead requests that Adam be hired as a gardener of his property. But their lives take another swift turn when Katie discovers Leonard dead in the attic, and the two find out through Julia Kim (Jamie Chung), Leonard’s attorney, that he has left all his possessions, including the house, to Katie.
While Detective Chesler (Sasha Alexander), who is in charge of the investigation, doesn’t seem to suspect any foul play at first, her institution seems to think otherwise, especially seeing Adam adjusting a little too well to their new lavish lifestyle. Further complicating matters is Mickey Hayden (Cam Gigandet), a sleazy realtor, who doesn’t seem to be keen about Katie and Adam immediately moving into Leonard’s house. As money and greed begin clouding the couple’s judgement, it starts to become clear that Adam and Katie are in for something more than they bargained for.
The rest of the movie’s supposed suspense hides inside inert events like stalkers staring into side view mirrors, the couple finding a secret stash of stolen diamonds, instigating intimidation, or vaguely threatening someone through cryptic confrontations and of course, someone dying from an accidental fall down a staircase. The film loads up on rote plot beats like it and simply makes no excuse for how lazy and halfhearted it is, and I found myself seriously wondering if anyone involved cared about it all.
A good thrillers keeps us on the edge of the seat, demands our participation in figuring out who the perpetrator is, leaves us dumb-founded with the twists in the story, and then some. This film does nothing of that. For a murder mystery, which uses the familiar horror tropes, there is absolutely no thrill in the entire film. In fact, the only time your heart races is when Katie gets a jump scare on a mousetrap, and that, too, is highly subjective.
It is the kind of insipid thriller where the characters make one almost comically asinine decision after another until you start rooting for them to get physically injured.
Funnily, the entire story of the film leans on paranoia. Why does the estate agent keep coming to the house and wanting to buy for another client? Why do the cops keep questioning the couple? Who is this attorney that handed them the will? The whole story is leaning on finding a primary suspect which at one point, and predictably, gets our protagonist halfway convinced her black husband might be an armed robber, a murderer, or both. Then the conclusion hits such ludicrous lows with ridiculous reveals that it has to be seen for its outrageous absurdity to be believed.
To its credit, it looks like there was a decent story underneath, but it is buried too deep to flesh out either the mystery or the characters. Like I mentioned above, the film is relatively engaging throughout. Even the times where it goes completely off the rails, the film has a level of amusement to it.
Throughout the film, we get several pieces, either in the form of a stray incident or as suspicious characters. You try to keep track of everything and start building your own theories about what could be going on here. By the end of it, whatever you might have come up with will probably be better than the way the film ends.
Performance wise, ‘Riverdale’ star Camila Mendes tries her best to bring in an admirable performance, however her character is so poorly written, it’s easy to see why she leaves little to no impression in the end. On the other hand, Jesse T. Usher swings between being charming and over the top throughout the film. Elliott Gould, even in his small role, brings his legendary likeness and calm authority to film.
Once again the lovely and the very talented Jamie Chung is wasted in a role which serves her no purpose at all. While Sasha Alexander and Cam Gigandet seem to playing their usual self. On the whole, ‘Dangerous Lies’ is a shallow and ridiculous thriller that provides little to no intrigue or mystery.
Directed – Michael M. Scott
Rated – R
Run Time – 96 minutes