Frauds

Pop star Phil Collins makes another stab at movie stardom as a deranged insurance investigator tormenting a married couple in this visually slick but dramatically thin suspense thriller from Australia. To the ongoing annoyance of his wife Beth (Josephine Byrnes), Jonathan Wheats (Hugo Weaving) has a streak of childishness that manifests itself in obsessive...read more

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Pop star Phil Collins makes another stab at movie stardom as a deranged insurance investigator tormenting a married couple in this visually slick but dramatically thin suspense thriller from Australia.

To the ongoing annoyance of his wife Beth (Josephine Byrnes), Jonathan Wheats (Hugo Weaving) has a streak of childishness that manifests itself in obsessive games-playing, usually with his best friend Michael (Peter Mochrie). The games get out of hand one night, however, when Jonathan and

Michael stage a phony burglary of Jonathan's house to "steal" the couple's valuable heirloom silverware and file a false insurance claim without telling Beth. The plan goes awry when Beth comes home unexpectedly and, not recognizing the ski-masked Michael, kills him with one of Jonathan's "toys,"

a working crossbow. She's cleared of criminal charges in the death. When Jonathan files the insurance claim for the silverware, which he has hidden, investigator Roland Copping (Collins), who's wise to the plot, comes into the couple's lives and won't go away. Psychologically traumatized by

causing the childhood crippling of his brother, which came about when he lost a bet with Roland on the roll of a die, Roland now lives in his own world of childishly sadistic games-playing, a distorted mirror of Jonathan's, and has made an adulthood hobby of tormenting policyholders, like the

Wheats, who file false claims. Proceeding on a roll of the die each time, Copping begins systematically stripping the Wheats of their money, material goods, dignity, and finally their sanity until Jonathan plans a dangerous game of his own. The climax is a standoff. Copping holds Beth's life

hostage while Jonathan threatens Copping's quadriplegic brother. When Copping and Jonathan call each other's bluffs, both death threats turn out to be fakes, and all three have a good laugh together as the police, called by Beth, arrive.

FRAUDS is all buildup and no payoff--using a variety of visual tricks and gimmicks from giant, slow-motion closeups of Roland's dangerous rolling die, to whiplash zooms, cranes, and camera movements, writer-director Stephan Elliott creates a mood of effective eerieness that only creates

expectations his thin scenario can't fulfill. Headed by another terrific performance from Weaving, who played another type of manipulative games-player in Jocelyn Moorhouse's far superior PROOF, the cast is almost strong enough to sustain interest by itself. Sturdy supporting work especially is

done by Byrnes, and even Collins' irrepressible mugging finds an appropriate outlet in his giggling psychopath. But the characters emerge as uninteresting two-dimensional ciphers in a story that might have made for a nifty "Tales from the Crypt" episode but only shows signs of stretching and

straining to fill feature length.

The film's crucial error as a would-be suspense thriller is to keep the audience guessing about the wrong things. For example, why does Copping, whose ingenious, Rube Goldberg-style home security apparatus tells him that Jonathan has just broken into his house and is probably nearby, then

immediately lead Jonathan directly to his brother and his only point of vulnerability? Then, at the end, why does Beth, having just had her life spared, spring the trap to kill Copping's brother--only to suffer a fit of self-righteousness and call the police? These and other lapses have the

cumulative effect of making the characters seem not nearly as bright as Elliott wants them to appear, in turn making FRAUDS not nearly as clever a film as it means to be. (Violence, adult situations.)

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