Camila Mendes as Katie
Directed by Michael Scott
Dangerous Lies is the type of movie you expect to find on TV — simple, basic, but enjoyable. The film won’t linger in your brain for long but does manage to entertain during its brief 100-minute runtime.
The film raises quite a few ethical dilemmas akin to those found in films such as Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, mostly revolving around money. If you find a bag full of cash no one knows exists, would you take it? The two protagonists, Katie and Adam, played effectively by Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher, ask the same question when they stumble upon $100,000 in hidden money tucked away in a dead guy’s house. Is it wrong to take money that will end up in a police locker somewhere?
Katie and Adam are in a unique situation. He’s a hero after stopping a shooter in a restaurant a few months ago, an event that thwarted his career goals, leaving Katie to pick up the slack with odd jobs such as caring for a kindly old man named Leonard (Elliott Gould) in his giant house. When the old guy dies, the couple discovers the hidden cash and, being reasonably poor themselves — although their outfits and spacious apartment say otherwise — debate whether or not to take the money for themselves to pay off student loans and get Adam back to school.
The old man has no family, see? The situation is cut and dry, assuming Katie and Adam are smart enough to conceal the money without raising any red flags.
Of course, this is a movie. So, it’s inevitable that our two leads will make bad choices that lead to more bad choices, etc. until they are lying to cops, burying dead bodies, and falling deeper and deeper into darkness.
Not helping matters is the discovery of Leonard’s will in which he kindly leaves everything to Katie despite only knowing her for roughly four months. The document and increasing number of coincidences draws the attention of Detective Chesler (Sasha Alexander), who begins snooping around the way all Hollywood cops do, whilst a mysterious man (Cam Gigandet) suddenly appears and begins doing his own type of investigative work.
All of these elements are reasonably effective, but the relationship between Katie and Adam serves as the meat and potatoes of the film and the portion I found most fascinating. I love films that depicting a character’s gradual descent into Hell amidst bad ethical choices. And while Dangerous Lies never quite ventures down that particular rabbit hole deep enough, the film at least effectively chips away at the surface and posits questions that can only be answered with shades of grey.
Despite a clever premise and some interesting ideas, Dangerous Lies takes the easy way out in the end. Is it a spoiler to say the finale includes one of those cheesy monologues-delivered-by-villain bits ala Scooby Doo? For a film that at the very least attempted to open up a few unique ethical questions, it was more than a little disappointing to watch as everything wraps up in a nice tidy bow executed via one of those bland TV shootouts in which the editing works overtime to cover up the low production budget.
I also felt Adam’s character got the short end of the character development stick. Where Katie endures a gradual awakening in response to the escalating predicament, Adam jumps from wide-eyed bystander caught in a tight spot to a man capable of disposing dead bodies just to … hang on to a relatively antiquated suburban home. I get the need to move the plot forward, but these stories require a much slower burn to truly pay off.
The opening sequence left me baffled as well. Adam takes down an armed robber in heroic fashion — a plot point that everyone seems to move on from as soon as we cut to the next scene. I only watched the film once, so it’s possible I missed a few details. Was the shooting scene in the restaurant included only as a means of incriminating Adam later on since its implied he may or may not have staged the whole event? Was the incident the reason he dropped out of school? He tells Katie he quit college so he could get a job to pay off their debt but has yet to find a job. Based on some of the decisions he makes over the course of the film I would assume Adam suffers from PTSD, but the film never confirms this. So, I don’t know.
Also, when they get the house via the will, why don’t Adam and Katie sell it and make some money? The house would probably net a good chunk of change. Instead, their first instinct is to move in as if owning a home will solve all of their martial and financial issues — surprise, it doesn’t. If anything, the home compounds matters as it turns up secrets of its own.
I may sound too harsh in my nitpicks. I actually did enjoy this film. Again, approach it as a movie-of-the-week kind of deal and you might find yourself as captivated as I was. But you may also wish the filmmakers had gone a little further.
Bolstered by good performances and a solid premise, Dangerous Lies entertains, but ultimately lacks the extra coating needed to work as a truly memorable thriller.