By Frank Scheck
Stories involving fake mediums have long been a cinematic staple, and anyone who enjoyed such films as Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Family Plot or Nightmare Alley will appreciate the narrative deliciousness of Trevor White's sophomore feature. Starring Rich Sommer as a fraud psychic who gets in way over his head after encountering a murderer, A Crooked Somebody is smarter than the usual thriller. The film is receiving a limited theatrical release in addition to being available on DirecTV.
Sommer plays Michael Vaughn, the sort of small-time medium who can only dream of hitting the big time a la John Edward. He's instead reduced to plying his trade in sparsely attended hotel meeting rooms, even giving away his book to a patron who asks if she can find it cheaper online. Aiding him in his machinations is his audience plant Chelsea (Joanne Froggatt), with whom he once had a romantic relationship.
Looking on with disapproval during one of Michael's performances is his preacher father Sam (Ed Harris), who reminds his son that he once told him, "Better to be an honest nobody than a crooked somebody."
Unfortunately for Michael, one of his audience members, Nathan (Clifton Collins Jr.), believes all too strongly in his psychic powers. He's particularly disturbed by Michael claiming to hear from someone named "Jim," since that happens to be the name of the man Nathan murdered 20 years ago. Later that night, Nathan kidnaps Michael from the parking lot and takes him captive.
But just as he's about to have his throat slit, the quick-thinking Michael uses his talent for deception to convince Nathan that he can help him overcome his lingering guilt over his crime by putting him directly in psychic touch with his victim. Besides self-preservation, Michael has another motive for his deception: The dead man had a now-grown daughter, Stacy (Amanda Crew), whose tragedy has never left the public's imagination. Michael hopes that by persuading Nathan to show him where he buried the body, he can alert the authorities and become a media sensation.
You don't have to have seen any of the aforementioned similarly themed movies to guess that not everything goes as Michael plans. Even while trying to keep the increasingly anxious Nathan placated, he falls under the suspicion of a pair of detectives (Paul Ben-Victor, Michael Mosley) who guess that he knows more than he's letting on.
White, whose previous credits are mainly as a producer (Wind River, Ingrid Goes West), doesn't bring much stylistic flair to the proceedings, making one wonder what a more accomplished filmmaker would have done with the material. Fortunately, Andrew Zilch's screenplay takes up the slack, keeping the viewer thoroughly engrossed in the plot's twists and turns even if they are occasionally predictable.
The film also benefits from the terrific performances. Sommer projects oiliness here just as effectively as he did portraying Harry Crane on Mad Men, making his character here similarly unlikable and yet somehow sympathetic in his utter desperation. Froggatt provides solid support as the beleaguered accomplice, and Collins Jr. proves again that he's one of the best character actors in the business with his compelling turn as the emotionally unstable killer. Another plus is the presence of Amy Madigan, Harris' real-life spouse, as the preacher's wife; it's positively heartwarming to see how often the couple is eager to work together onstage and onscreen.
Production companies: Star Thrower Entertainment, Storyboard Entertainment, Synergies Films, Victual Entertainment
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Rich Sommer, Clifton Collins Jr. Joanne Froggatt, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Amanda Crew, Randee Heller, Michael Mosley, Paul Ben-Victor
Director: Trevor White
Screenwriter: Andrew Zilch
Producers: Jason Potash, Paul Finkel, Tim White, Wayne L. Rogers
Executive producer: Ricky Blumenstein
Director of photography: Robert Lam
Production designer: Jacqueline Glynn
Editor: Craig Dewey
Composer: Andrew Hewitt
Costume designer: Alyssa Tull
Casting: Marisol Roncali
Rated R, 102 minutes