Writer/director Larry Cohen bought the rights to some Mike Hammer novels but when his film I, the Jury flopped; he decided to retool this one as a vehicle for Billy Dee Williams. Like I, the Jury; Deadly Illusion was also taken away from him and turned over to another director. This flick is marginally better than I, the Jury; if only for Williams’ great performance and the presence of my future ex-wife, Morgan Fairchild.
Williams stars as the Mike Hammer stand-in called “Hamburger”. He’s a suave but still down on his luck detective that is so poor he has to meet his clients in a deli. The insanely hot Vanity co-stars as Hamburger’s Helper (sorry) and secretary who I guess is supposed to be the Velda character. Hamburger gets paid $25,000 by a yuppie scumbag to murder his wife. Because she’s played by Morgan Fairchild, Hamburger instead bones her and tells her to skip town and pockets the money. When the real Ms. Yuppie Scum turns up dead, it’s not Morgan. Obviously, Hamburger has been set up to take the fall, but his cop buddy gives him 24 hours to clear his name.
Deadly Illusion is nothing more than your usual detective movie clichés trotted out yet again, but what makes it unique is Williams. He has a cocky assuredness that’s refreshing and kicks all kinds of thespian ass. All I’ve got to say is that he must’ve drank a shitload of Colt .45 before filming because he’s awesome in this flick. In fact, I think it would’ve been cool if this had been a legit Mike Hammer movie because Billy Dee is perfect in the role. His Lando-ness does the world-weary detective narration to a tee and does a much better job than Armand Assante did in I, the Jury.
I also liked the early scenes of the movie when Billy Dee walks down the street and is immediately hounded by people who want to shake his hand. He makes a throwaway line in his narration that “everywhere I go, people always seem to know me” but I think the real reason behind this is that the crew didn’t have a permit to shoot the street scenes and pedestrians who didn’t expect to be shoulder to shoulder with Billy Dee stopped to shake his hand. Since they didn’t have time or money to film the scene twice, they just went with it. This scene is just so random though that it kinda works.
You can tell the flick was the work of two directors because the mood often changes on a dime. Sometimes it’s serious and sometimes there are random comedy bits that don’t fly (like Billy Dee’s run-in with an elevator). And the script is kind of a mess too. The film starts out okay, but it quickly degenerates as it goes along and culminates in a less than satisfying manner. In fact, there are so many loose ends at the end of the movie that even Billy Dee makes a comment about it.
Deadly Illusion does make good use of it’s
Morgan sports an awful black wig for the first half of the film that absolutely does nothing for her. Once she ditches the wig though she’s looking damned fine in all of her heavily hair sprayed high shoulder padded glory. Her role here is a lot like the one in last week’s It Came from the Thrift Store movie, Street of Dreams of the stock femme fatale/woman who isn’t what she seems. It’s not Morgan’s finest hour and a half, but any hour and a half spent with her is quality time in my book.
Vanity’s foxiness is put to better use. She looks hot as Hell and is usually seen wearing black leather and tight cocktail dresses. Sadly, she doesn’t whip out her Vani-ta-ta’s. I wish she wasn’t such a Vani-tease.
Joe Spinell fans will love the opening scene. He plays a typically intense nutzo character who gets blown away by Billy Dee. Too bad he disappears so quickly because his brief appearance is one of the movie’s highlights.
Overall, Deadly Illusion is a standard issue lukewarm detective flick. It’ll probably appeal most to the Larry Cohen completists out there. Billy Dee’s performance and Vanity and Morgan’s considerable hotness help elevate it to “better than average” status but not by much.
AKA: I Love You to Death. AKA: Love You to Death.
Next week’s It Came from the Thrift Store flick is another Vanity vehicle; Never Too Young to Die.