I'm just guessing here, but I would assume that filmmaker Atom Egoyan is a bit of an anomaly in Canada. Egyptian-born, Armenian-blooded, but raised in the chilly wilds of Western Canada, Egoyan has, for decades, been one of the premier agent provocateurs of the indie film biz. From the voyeuristic edge of his early work (Family Viewing, Speaking Parts) to the kinky kick of his middle-period films (The Adjuster, Exotica) to the mathematically precise heartbreak of his masterpiece (The Sweet Hereafter), Egoyan has created a body of work that excites and intrigues as many as it it offends. Among the clean cities, polite citizenry and universal healthcare of Canada, Egoyan and his sexually explicit excoriations of modern media and popular culture must seem--I don't know--a bit out of place, eh?
Following late on the heels of 2002's controversial but sincere political drama Ararat, Egoyan has contributed what could be mistaken for his most conventional film to date, the eros-tinged murder mystery Where the Truth Lies.
The film is based on a gimmicky novel by Rupert Holmes--who, if he lives long enough to discover a cure for cancer, will still be known as the guy who wrote “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” Where the Truth Lies gathered some big buzz on its way out from the film fest circuit when the MPAA ratings board saw fit to slap it with an NC-17. Unwilling to snip the offending ménage à trois at the center of the film, Egoyan (and distributor ThinkFilm) have opted to release it uncut and unrated.
The promise of illicit sex is the thing that will probably end up luring most people to the theater; and it is with a twinge of regret that I must admit that's probably the best reason for checking this effort out.
Where the Truth Lies spins an only semi-believable yarn about an attractive female journalist named Karen O'Connor (Allison Lohman, Big Fish) who's chasing down the story of her young life. Back in the mid '50s, the old-school showbiz duo of Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) was the biggest thing on the planet. The pair broke up in scandal shortly after the body of a woman, allegedly a suicide, was found in their hotel room. It's now 15 years later, and Karen has been hired to write a book about the two performers.
Collins, the suave British singer, is at the end of his career path and desperate for money. He's willing to spill the beans. But Lanny, the wacky Jewish comic, is writing his own book and keeps Karen at arm's length. That is, until a chance meeting and a hasty lie about her identity brings Karen in close contact with Lanny--perhaps a little too close, if you catch my drift.
The film unfurls like a murder mystery with Karen trying to figure out what happened to the poor dead girl in Vince and Lanny's hotel room. What dark secret are they trying to cover up? Unfortunately, it's pretty much the exact secret you'd expect. The plot throws in all sorts of creaky Agatha Christie elements like locked rooms and vanishing bodies, but its all humbuggery and rather distracting from Egoyan's mission to deliver undraped flesh. Strip away Egoyan's pretentions about “identity” and “truth,” substitute Shannon Tweed for Allison Lohman, and you've got your basic late-night Showtime sex thriller.
In sad fact, Miss November 1981 might have made for a slight improvement. Lohman comes across as a particularly unconvincing actress here. She isn't helped any by a voice-over narration that sounds like it was ripped from the pages of a 13-year-old girl's diary. “I was a young journalist with a few awards, a couple of cover stories and a desperate need to prove myself,” Karen informs us by way of introduction.
Firth and Bacon are of debatable value here. They are saddled with caricatures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis so thinly veiled that they hardly count as veiled. (The duo, for example, hosts an annual polio telethon rather than a muscular dystrophy telethon.) Though Firth and Bacon are both solid performers, they are no Martin & Lewis. On screen, they register more like Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, a rather pathetic pair of Martin & Lewis imitators who starred in 1952's Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla and were subsequently sued out of existence. If you're interested in the love-hate dynamic between Martin and Lewis you're better off reading Nick Tosches' biography Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams.
Performances aside, the film's narrative is a bit on the flashback-fractured side, bouncing between the mid-'50s and the early-'70s like an arrhythmic ping-pong ball. Part of the problem may be that neither Egoyan nor his budget seem capable of convincingly recreating either era--as a result, it's sometimes hard to guess what section of the story we're stuck in.
Still, if you're in the mood for lesbian action, voyeurism and yet more naked shots of Kevin Bacon's posterior, this soft-boiled showbiz melodrama delivers at least on that promise.