A new entry in the Direct-to-Blu-ray market, except in Israel, where IMDb.com states it was the only country a theatrical release occurred, 'Lies and Illusions' is what you'd expect from a movie you haven't heard of, written by a screenwriter receiving his first credit, and starring two actors who have done nothing noteworthy recently.
Wes Wilson (Christian Slater) is a best-selling, self-help writer. We meet him at a party for his latest book, "Finding Love in the 21st Century." At the bar, he hits on an attractive blonde who brushes him off. The poor dialogue and production values had me so disinterested that at only six minutes in (I noted the time) I began losing interest in the movie and faith in the team who put it together. A minute later, the first of many 'Lies and Illusions' are revealed: the blonde is actually Wes' fiancée, Samantha (Sarah Ann Schultz).
As they leave the book party, they are attacked by a group of men. Wes gets knocked out and Samantha, referred to as "Alicia," is asked for stolen jewels. Samantha is kidnapped and Wes is left behind unable to make sense of what happened. The police find Samantha's car and traces of blood but no body. Wes learns Samantha had a lawyer and he makes Wes aware of her safety deposit box in a Spokane bank, which he will get access to when either Samantha's body is found or after a year passes. Soon the bad guys come sniffing around the lawyer's office, and even though he is completely cooperative, to show they mean business, they stick his hand into a shredder (off screen).
One year later, Wes is still mourning his loss and is still amazed that he didn't really know Samantha, a point driven further home one evening when Wes returns home to find the house ransacked. He begins searching for remaining intruders when, and I am not sure which is the greater cliché, he is startled by a cat jumping out at him and discovers (spoiler...ahead...?)a secret room where Samantha kept fake passports and weapons.
Meanwhile, during a signing at a bookstore, Nicole (Christa Campbell), a journalist and a big fan, shows up. Wes' agent pushes him to go out with her. Completely forgetting his recent expressions of grief, they begin to date. Isaac (Cuba Gooding Jr.) also shows up at signing and tries to get Wes to go for a ride, but Wes doesn't feel comfortable. Finally, Wes decides it's time to go see what's in the safety deposit box. Nicole offers to accompany him, and of course the bad guys trail him, leading to chases and fights as the movie winds up.
Everyone may have done their best, but 'Lies and Illusions' is low-budget moviemaking at its worst. Considering the characters are one-dimensional, the plotting poor, and the dialogue lame, it's a wonder what any producer saw in the script. When Isaac threatens Wes with "I’ll put two more holes in her and I don’t mean the good kind," it's unclear if what the writer thinks of his villain. Is he menacing? Is he an idiot?
There is one pretty good car crash stunt, but the rest of the action sinks to the subpar levels of the other departments. The fights are poorly staged and it's almost laughable to watch people shooting in a narrow hotel hallway and not hitting each other. Like every other component, it just feels like director Tibor Takács thought the work was good enough to get by, but he is wrong every time.
The 1080p VC-1 encoded video transfer is unable to rise above the limitations of the source material. There's grain seen throughout, as if the film stock was blown up. Lower light situations naturally make it worse. Depth is limited and a lot of backgrounds are out of focus. There are some textures like clothes and brick to be seen, but the video is primarily devoid of sharp details. The fleshtones are inconsistent. Most of the color looks dull other than the green of trees and rare items like Slater in a pink robe, which stands out more than it should. Blacks get swallowed up on themselves. All in all, this is a very disappointing transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is muddled and the front speakers deliver the majority of the sound with no directionality. The surround delivers occasional minor ambiance, slight augmentation as opposed to believable immersion. It also offers some support to the action scenes but little else. The subwoofer adds a slight punch to the action and is put to use by Stephen Edwards' score, which increases the bass when amplifying the menace and tension on a scene.
The main characters' dialogue is almost exclusively restricted to the front center channel and is at times hard to make out. Most of it, particularly the exterior city scenes and also the throwaway lines shouted by people off screen, sounds flat and lacks ambiance.
The score blends well with the dialogue, in part because the limited dynamic range never gets too loud. However, many of the effects distract from the presentation because they don't sound authentic and natural to the scene -- a prime example of this is the hollow sound of the onscreen gunfire.
In the Special Feature, producer Johnny Martin, referring to the budget, says, "coming into this movie…I didn’t know if we could deliver a quality project." Well, they didn't. Please, please take my advice and spend 93 minutes elsewhere.