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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Frauds' an Overstylized Mix in Thriller-Comedy Genre

September 22, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you ever hungered to see a close-up of pop star Phil Collins laughing maniacally with his mouth full of chewy hamburger, then "Frauds" (at the Sunset 5) is the in-your-face movie for you. This exercise in overstylized zaniness has enough wide-angle mug shots to populate a whole apartment building's worth of peepholes.

What we're peeping at here is a self-consciously oddball Australian thriller-comedy: "Double Indemnity" as remade by Tim Burton, or something unholy like that. Collins is at the movie's off-center as a middle-aged, officious insurance investigator whose propriety masks a possibly deadly prankishness. Before long, he's less Edward G. Robinson than he is proprietor of the malevolent annex to Pee-wee's Playhouse.

Collins acts as gleeful antagonist to a yuppie couple, Hugo Weaving and Josephine Byrnes, who have submitted an insurance claim for some stolen silverware following the wife's killing of an apparent intruder in mid-burglary. But Collins smells fraud--improbably but rightly enough--and approves their claim while making increasingly bizarre demands as ransom for his acquiescence.

Conventional as that setup might sound, you can't quite accuse the movie of being formulaic: In this brightly colored blackmail scheme, Collins' insurance man eventually turns out to be a villain of Bondian--or Beetlejuiceian--proportions. The three of them finally wind up locked in silly mortal combat in his giant fun house of a residence, with the missus tied up and aimed at a saw blade at the bottom of a slide, Collins merrily quipping, "So long, Beth, it's been a pleasure halving you," and such.

Collins isn't bad playing it unctuous. There does finally appear to be a point to all of writer-director Stephan Elliott's weary mayhem--something about boys who never grow up, since Weaving, the blackmailed husband, turns out to have just as much frustrated kid in him as Collins. But any critique of games-playing male juvenility is a tad hypocritical for a film as self-impressed by its own garishness.

'Frauds'

A Live Entertainment and J&M Entertainment presentation of a Latent Image production. Starring Phil Collins, Hugo Weaving, Josephine Byrnes. Director-writer Stephan Elliott. Producers Andrena Finlay, Stuart Quin. Executive producer Rebel Penfold-Russell. Cinematographer Geoff Burton. Editor Frans Vandenburg. Costumes Fiona Spence. Music Guy Gross. Production design Brian Thomson. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (for violence).

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