'Dangerous Lies': Film Review

Netflix
Jesse T. Usher and Camila Mendes in 'Dangerous Lies'
Silly but watchable.
4/30/2020

Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher play a young couple whose financial struggles are erased by a sudden windfall that opens up a whole new bag of trouble in this Netflix thriller.

One of those movies in which nobody seems to smell a dead body that's been decomposing above the garage for two years, and a seemingly smart cop's suspicions about a sizable inheritance never prompt her to question the attorney who drew up the will, Dangerous Lies is riddled with dumb logic. But if you can check your brain and go along with the preposterous plotting of a mystery thriller as generic as its title, there's a certain baseline pleasure in watching the more or less wholesome young couple at its center swim in a murky cesspool of deception and death. Oh, and diamonds!

This blandly glossy effort is directed with journeyman efficiency by Michael M. Scott, who has an epic string of TV movies to his credit, a list that includes such enticing titles as Hitched for the Holidays, Bridal Wave, My Mom's Letter from Heaven and It's Christmas, Carol! (Full confession: I want to see all of those.) Dangerous Lies, sadly, has no exclamation point and nor does it merit one. It's like the in-flight entertainment choice you make when you're beyond caring and still waiting for your Xanax to kick in. It's not going to change anyone's mind about the patchy curation of Netflix's original film content.

The noirish glow of neon at night spells danger in a prologue that sees waitress Katie (Camila Mendes) working the night shift at a South Chicago diner while her husband Adam (Jessie T. Usher) occupies a table, brushing up on sociological theory in empirical corporate analysis for his business degree. And yet, Kate seems to love him. He's called a hero on local news when he foils a robbery at the diner by clobbering the armed criminal over the head with a frying pan.

Four months later, Katie is working in the leafy suburbs as "caretaker, companion and friend" to kindly old chatterbox Leonard (Elliott Gould, classing up the joint for a minute) in his handsome, two-story, wood-paneled home. Adam, meanwhile, has stopped taking classes and stressed-out Katie frets as student loan, credit card and health insurance debts pile up. While stewing after an argument, she mentions their money worries to Leonard, who gives Adam some gardening work and significantly increases the size of Katie's paycheck. She wants to refuse it but Adam overrules her scruples.

A real estate broker named Mickey Hayden (Cam Gigandet) with a Trumpy tan and sharky smile comes sniffing around; he claims to be representing a "seriously motivated" buyer interested in Leonard's house, but we know he has a more sinister purpose, especially once he starts tailing Adam and Katie. "The place must be worth a fortune," speculates Adam, suggesting a mercenary nature that starts quietly gnawing at his wife.

When Leonard dies peacefully in his attic armchair leaving no family, Adam snoops around and finds a trunk stuffed with cash, convincing reluctant Katie that they should keep it. In one of the great B-movie traditions, nothing stokes a young couple's desire for hot sex like filling a safe deposit box with greenbacks, even if Dangerous Lies toothlessly cuts away just as they're going at it.

Leonard's attorney Julia (Jamie Chung) shows up out of the blue at his funeral service, spouting poetry and informing Katie she's the sole beneficiary in his recently drawn up will. So she and Adam move into the house, their lives seemingly transformed overnight. But sleazy Mickey keeps circling, Katie's boss from the home-care agency (Michael P. Northey) smells a rat, and investigating officer Detective Chesler (Sasha Alexander, doing her best Connie Britton) starts asking questions that lead back to the night of the diner robbery.

Once that apparently odorless corpse and a bag of diamonds turn up, anything resembling plausible plotting in the pedestrian screenplay by David Golden (another holiday TV movie specialist) has flown out the picture windows and been buried in Leonard's beloved garden. But it remained suspenseful enough — well, just enough — to keep the mindless couch potato in me moderately glued until the end to find out what happened.

The film is a sleek package, with cinematographer Ronald Paul Richard delivering lots of insinuating bird's eye views and Hitchcockian low angles, accompanied by the brooding notes of James Jandrisch's score with occasional whispery vocals. (The setting could be any place, with British Columbia standing in for Chicago.) But would it be too much to ask for at least one performance with a little flavor? The attractive cast is quite capable, though seldom much more than that. And they're a model of racial inclusiveness, even if it's vaguely irksome that the two main actors of color play characters who are shady AF. Haven't we moved beyond that?

Production company: Off Camera Entertainment
Distributor: Netflix
Cast: Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher, Jamie Chung, Cam Gigandet, Sasha Alexander, Elliott Gould, Michael P. Northey
Director: Michael M. Scott
Screenwriter: David Golden
Producers: Stephanie Slack, Margaret H. Huddleston
Executive producers: Michael M. Scott, Harvey Kahn
Director of photography: Ronald Paul Richard
Production designer: James L.D. Robbins
Costume designer: Sheila White
Music: James Jandrisch
Editor: Alison Grace
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd, Bret Howe, Jackie Lind

97 minutes