Based on the book by Clifford Irving, "The Hoax" tells the true story of Irving's attempts to sell a fake book about Howard Hughes in the early 70's. As the film opens, Irving has had his latest effort rejected by McGraw-Hill editor Andrea Tate (Hope Davis), but soon after, he storms into Andrea's office to hint at a massive project he has in store. As she soon finds out, Irving plans to write an authorized, tell-all bio of the famously reclusive Howard Hughes, even producing a letter noting the approval of Hughes.
It would all be terrific for Irving if any of it was actually the slightest bit true. Figuring that Hughes is too much of an insane recluse to take the time to actually come forward to take any sort of action, Irving believes there's no way he could fail. He pulls in pal Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina) to help him with the con and the publishers buy in to the tune of a massive (especially for the time period) publishing deal. As suspicious as the publishers are, they also can't let what might be one of the biggest bestsellers in ages get away from them.
As with similar tales like "Shattered Glass", soon enough Clifford is building and expanding his lies in order to paint a deeper picture of his experiences contacting Hughes. Meanwhile, he has Suskind tracking down material to Hughes to use in the book and Irving himself even fakes interview tapes, doing an impression of Hughes.
However, what goes up must come down, and it's only a matter of time before the house of cards under Clifford's plan starts to crumble. When the president of the publishing company (Stanley Tucci) starts thinking Irving's a phony, he demands that Irving get some serious proof in three days, and the clock starts ticking. Clifford himself eventually starts falling apart under pressure. Suskind - who got swept up in Irving's scheme - soon realizes that he's gone far beyond being in over his head.
The film's darker second half doesn't work quite as well as the light and fast first half, and by the last quarter of the nearly 120-minute movie, it has started to drag a tad. What Irving is doing is obviously wrong, but his attempts to craft an enormous (and enormously profitable) lie are engaging viewing. Gere's lively, chatty performance is an energetic one that is one of the actor's best in recent memory - he does the verbal dance that Irving must have had to have done quite well. Molina is also terrific as Irving's shy pal. The only wrong note in the cast is Marcia Gay Harden as Irving's wife - the actress is saddled with a silly accent and the character is underdeveloped. She and Gere have little chemistry and the relationship between the characters stands as the least interesting element of the movie.
Overall, despite a few issues, "The Hoax" is still one of director Hallstrom's best efforts. He handles the remarkable case of Irving in a mostly entertaining fashion. Gere carries the movie though, and I wouldn't be surprised if he scores a nomination or two for the effort.
VIDEO: "The Hoax" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality didn't dazzle, but it was fine enough. Sharpness and detail were average, as while the picture never appeared hazy, detail and clarity didn't impress, either. Some minor edge enhancement was spotted at times, but no artifacting or other faults were noticed. The film's slightly subdued colors looked accurate, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "The Hoax" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This was an entirely dialogue-driven affair, with very little in the way of surround use, aside from some minor reinforcement of the score. Audio quality was fine, with crisp, natural-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: Commentary with director Lasse Hallstrom and writer William Wheeler and commentary with producers Leslie Holleran and Joshua D. Maurer. Hallstrom and Wheeler also return to give their thoughts on 6 deleted scenes, but do not chat about an extended scene that's included. "Reflections on a Con" is a 4-minute piece that has Mike Wallace discussing his thoughts on Irving's giant con. We also get "Stranger Than Fiction", a brief "making of" featurette.
Final Thoughts: "The Hoax" drags a little at times, but at its best this is a lively and entertaining retelling of a wild, true story. The DVD presentation offers solid audio/video quality and a fine amount of extra features. This one gets a solid rental recommendation.
The Film B