Dangerous Lies review – diverting yet dopey Netflix thriller

One of the most surprising reveals of last October’s unprecedented Netflix data dump was the astounding popularity of cheap psycho-thriller Secret Obsession. While the streamer proudly touted new films from Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Greengrass and the Coens in the same period, it was a no-star, dim-plotted slab of schlock that netted more viewers, with an estimated 40m households eager to find out just how secret that obsession really was. Modelled after a Lifetime TV movie (with a Lifetime TV director at the helm), it was an important victory for Netflix because it revealed a substantial audience for tiny-budgeted thrillers with generic titles, a bracket they could easily fill at little expense.

Related: The Half of It review – charming Netflix teen comedy takes on Cyrano

Which brings us to Dangerous Lies, a comically titled new thriller from the director of Fatal Lessons, Dangerous Heart and It’s Christmas, Carol!, a similarly cheap yet not unenjoyable Friday night diversion. Originally called Windfall, the patchwork plot follows a young couple living on the breadline, or what a film such as this thinks is the breadline (their “lousy” apartment is enviably spacious). In the first scene, we see Katie (Riverdale’s Camila Mendes) and Adam (The Boys’ Jessie T Usher) stumbling across an aborted robbery at the diner where she works. Adam shoots and kills the assailant and four months later, they’re dealing with the aftermath. Katie is now working as a carer for Leonard (Elliot Gould), whose loneliness has made her an important part of his life. When he suddenly dies and the couple find a large stash of money in his house, they find themselves telling some … DANGEROUS LIES!

If anything, that awful title helps to fill us in on exactly what to expect here, despite how generic it might be. This is the sort of low-rent, trope-filled thriller that used to exist on the bottom shelf of a video store, aiming for undemanding customers whose first, second and third choices were all rented out for the night. Taken as such, it’s perfectly passable, a solidly made time-waster that drip-feeds its reveals with enough skill to keep us onboard, even as we sigh and rage at the characters for acting in increasingly dopey ways. It’s one of those films where smart people do stupid things and the script, from Hallmark channel regular David Golden (whose credits include Finding Father Christmas, Engaging Father Christmas and Marrying Father Christmas), stretches credulity so far that the film frequently threatens to buckle under the weight of its characters’ terrible choices.

It’s pacy enough to secure at least our divided attention, competently trotting along in the background revealing surprises that aren’t really that surprising, like a pulpy, well-worn airplane novel that you guiltily devour in a day. You’ll be wrapped up in the moment before poking through its many many holes seconds later. Mendes and Usher make for a charismatic pairing, there’s some silly snarling from The OC’s Cam Gigandet as a mysterious realtor, some concerned lawyering from Gotham’s Jamie Chung and some embittered detecting from Dawson’s Creek’s Sasha Alexander, a low-paid parade of “Oh that one from that thing” actors (strangely the weakest link is a frankly bored Gould, barely phoning it in).

The familiarity of the title, the premise and the cast will all help to thrust it to big numbers, I imagine, and I’m sure there are plenty of others like this on the way: clumsily titled, scrappily written and easily consumed. I just wish those lies had been a bit more dangerous …

  • Dangerous Lies is now available on Netflix