Innocently seeking a cheap, no-redeeming-qualities evening in front of the TV, I innocently rented something called The List from Netflix. I thought I was getting the new erotic thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman about a sex club whose rich and powerful members are recorded on “The List.” Sort of the Eliot Spitzer story without Eliot Spitzer by name. I’d seen a trailer for The List and thought it would be a cheap and degrading way to waste two hours instead of watching Fox News parse Obama’s threatening hand gestures.
But wait, The List turned out to be a Christian propaganda film (along the lines of those Rapture movies, I suppose) about a lawyer who becomes involved with the rich and powerful heirs of greedy old Confederate money grubbers—known as “The Covenant List.” Except that this list was all about raw cash and not sex. (It is a Christian movie after all.)
OK, after some research, I figured out that Deception was originally titled The List, and then switched (perhaps to avoid confusion with this or with a new Wayne Brady comedy of the same name). It was also tentatively titled The Tourist. But a few trailers slipped out under the old name.(And just to add to the confusion, 199’s The List with Madchen Amic and Ben Gazzara is all about a prostitute who keeps a list of her powerful clients in order to blackmail them.)
Anyway, appalled and fascinated, I sat through the whole thing, my jaw dropping lower and lower. (Spoilers ahead.) Chuck Carrington, from JAG, plays Renny, a callow South Carolina lawyer who gets real annoyed when his distant, cold father dies and leaves him out of his $22 million will. All Renny gets is a lousy Civil War coin.
Following up, Renny is initiated into the Covenant List, a group of wealthy Southerners descended form some plantation owners. About the time the Yankees were coming (we see this in a hazy flashback), the original list members hid their gold and swore in blood to watch it grow thanks to the miracle of compound interest. Does it help that Malcolm McDowell, wearing a white big-daddy suit and attempting a Southern accent, plays the major domo of the group? I thought not. Suppose I throw in Pat Hingle? Will Patton? Still no sale?
While Renny is allowed in to this exclusive club, the long-lost daughter (Hilarie Burton of One Tree Hill) of another member is denied a seat at the table because she’s a woman—they thought she was Joe, but she’s really Jo. Don’t these secret societies keep better records than that?
Anyway, with the help of his missionary landlady, who keeps a secret prayer room in her attic (she prays in front of a blue-glass ornament that looks like the Star of David but surely must represent something else), and the loving support of some horrendously stereotyped black characters, Renny learns the power of love and prayer.
Among many mind-roasting moments: Renny learns that he has the power to induce heart attacks at a distant just by leaning real hard on his own bloody fingerprint and thinking bad thoughts (is this what Christians believe these days?). Renny’s big-hearted Mammy (known only as Mama A) hums “Amazing Grace” and actually uses, without irony, the phrase “Gone with the wind.”
The troubling notions about the slave-owning source of the Covenant’s wealth isn’t really dealt with, nor is it much commented upon that Renny is a greedy little striver. All he really wants is a chunk of the forbidden change. He would have happily joined the List if he hadn’t been screwed out of his share. It is only after his greed is thwarted that he suddenly decides to believe in a higher power.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the director has inserted several extremely long fade-to-black sequences to bridge scenes. They aren’t there as commercial breaks—maybe they are subliminal signals for viewers to bow their heads and pray for this turkey to end.