Awaiting repairs on his boat, yachtsman Tim Whalen (Rob Lowe) spends the summer on Long Island. Enjoying the high life and a clandestine affair with Brooke Morrison (Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall), the wife of his team sponsor, Whalen is introduced to newly-graduated heiress Olivia Lawrence (Meg Tilly). Having both lost their parents and sharing a love of sailing, the two bond and start a romantic relationship. But Tim is secretly in league with Olivia’s odious stepfather, Tony Gateworth (Smallville’s John Glover) who has his eyes on her money.
Their murder plot goes awry when, having seemingly fallen for Olivia, Tim kills Tony instead. A smitten Olivia covers for his crime and avoids jail by pleading self-defence, with help from childhood friend-turned-cop Mike McGill (Desperate Housewives’ Doug Savant), who still harbours feelings for her. Yet, as the title suggests, nothing here is quite as it seems…
American-born Bob Swaim made a splash in French cinema, first by reviving pulp hero Nestor Burma in La Nuit de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1977) and then with his multi award-winning crime thriller La Balance (1982). Its international success led him to Hollywood where he made Half Moon Street (1985) with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine, but came a-cropper with Masquerade. Partially due to studio interference and partially because its release coincided with Rob Lowe’s infamous sex scandal, the film emerged both an artistic and commercial failure although you can sort of see what Swaim was after.
The plot unfolds amidst the snob’s paradise that is the Hamptons, with hints that the cycle of characters covering up evidence for their own reasons mirrors how the close-knit community of the super-rich eagerly sweep secrets under the carpet. Swept along by a typically grandiose John Barry score, Swaim aims for a classy mystery but winds up with something as vacuous as Dynasty and none too different from the numerous “yuppies in peril” thrillers that so stifled the 1980s. This was scripted by Dick Wolf, later creator of the long-running Law & Order television franchise, and has elements of the police procedural. Yet an array of bland performance undo whatever dramatic impact the soap opera-level story has, plus the unconvincing plot twists - including one would-be doozy mid-way through - just don’t add up. Amidst the fumbled ending, we never come to understand why one key character wants Olivia dead.
Both Meg Tilly and Rob Lowe were reaching the end of their time as leading stars, although Lowe had a career revival thanks to The West Wing. Their sweaty and overwrought sex scene - another fixture of the “yuppie in peril” genre - is rendered somewhat laughable by John Barry’s thunderous drums. Further unintentional humour arises from the ridiculous need to have every major character walk around with their shirt off and the sheer number of times Olivia gets an urgent phone call informing her something awful has happened.