“Dangerous Lies” isn’t the dumbest whodunit to come along. There’s enough here to make you guess, second guess and maybe third-guess who is doing what to whom.
Maybe the situations seem a little prime-time soapy and the acting a little underwhelming, considering the bodies that start piling up around it.
It stars Camila Mendes from TV’s “Riverdale,” so make what you will of that soap-thriller casting.
But it’s mostly undone by its need to explain and over-explain, to have characters speculate (right on the money) about motives, what’s REALLY going on, rather than leave it to us to figure out.
Enough of what’s going on is obvious that we don’t need the remedial help.
But director Michael Scott is most at home making Hallmark-ready Christmas movies (“Hitched for the Holidays,” “Christmas on Holly Lane,” “Christmas Lost and Found” and that holiday classic, “It’s Christmas, Carol!”). So not having a handle on how much to explain or how to build suspense and pace your picture to rope the viewer in is to be expected.
At least he stages a decent shootout.
Mendes is Katie, a waitress when when meet her, slipping out of her Chicago diner for a makeout session with her studious student husband Adam (Jessie T. Usher, the littlest “Shaft”). But a robbery begins while they’re outside, and coming back in, Adam intervenes — violently.
That event upends their lives…WE’RE TOLD (not shown). Months later, he’s dropped out of school, cannot find a job and the bills are piling up. She’s become an in-home caregiver to a kindly old gent (Elliott Gould, bless him).
And when Katie lets slip to Leonard how hard times are, he wants to help. He takes on Adam as a gardener, off the books. It’s against the caregiver company’s policy. So is Leonard writing Katie an excessive check for this month’s services.
Adam’s impulses again rub against Katie’s well-intentioned caution. They cash it, and find Leonard dead the very next day.
If they’re worried about “how this looks,” they still don’t promptly call the authorities. Adam picks this very moment to rummage around Leonard’s attic, where the treasure lies.
And if those two actions aren’t suspicious enough, Katie insists to the cops that Leonard wanted to be cremated. That’s got to set off the detective’s (Sasha Alexander) alarm bells.
That’s BEFORE a lawyer (Jamie Chung) shows up with Leonard’s will, leaving everything to Katie. There’s also this creeper real estate agent (Cam Gigandet) insisting on making an offer on the property.
If it looks suspicious, it IS suspicious, right?
When the most basic description of your plot seems to give away the game, it takes style, performances and cleverness to wriggle out of the corner your picture’s painted into. “Dangerous Lies” lacks all three.
Not enough is made of “This Adam husband fella, how WELL do you know him?” doubts. The trauma of surviving a violent robbery, committing violence to stop it, isn’t developed.
There are ways to misdirect us when the second body shows up, more doubts that can be sewn and aren’t.
Mendes’ Katie under-reacts to almost all of this, partly thanks to the script, which has her hearing Adam’s “why don’t we” angles out at each juncture, partly due to her own limited range.
A beloved employer dies and she finds the body? A tear, maybe two. He left me EVERYTHING? Woohoo!
The script has Usher’s character leap into one dunder-headed move after another. The couple has scripted affection, but little chemistry.
Yeah, I know, “millennials.” But still.
This emotional disconnect only grows as the body count rises. Don’t they see how this looks? Don’t they FEEL anything?
The end result is a thriller that doesn’t race towards a climax we figure out (finally) 20 minutes in advance, it limps there.
MPAA Rating: TV-14, violence
Cast: Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher, Sasha Alexander, Cam Gigandet, Jamie Chung and Elliott Gould.
Credits: Directed by Michael Scott, script by David Golden. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36