There seems to be something about entertainers — singers and actors in particular — that leads them to want to try their hands at other professions. Every so often you hear about an actor who puts out an album; most often, you simultaneously hear laughter and derision from the masses. And it works the other way as well, of course; singers have been trying to break into movies at least since the days of Bing Crosby. This usually doesn’t work all that well either, though it does have an occasional success.

Frauds, a 1993 film by Stephan Elliott, attempts to be one of those successes by casting Phil Collins in the role of insurance agent Roland Copping. It turns out to work rather well indeed, as on the outside Phil Collins is very much the picture of a meek, mild-mannered accountant type, but Collins turns out to be able to channel an absurdist sense of humor and a childlike glee at bullying into a character that is both charming and irritating, and just short of menacing.

Nobody who wears a bow-tie as a child is going to grow up well-adjusted.

Though there are a few minor roles in the film, it’s essentially a story with only three characters. Hugo Weaving and Josephine Byrnes star as the Wheats, a yuppie couple who seem to lead a pretty good life, even if Beth gets a little frustrated at Jonathan’s tendency to collect toys and medieval weapons. But one night, Beth goes home from work instead of meeting Jonathan at the opera house as they had planned for the evening, and she comes across a burglar in their home. When the burglar picks up a knife and comes after her, she picks up one of Jonathan’s antique crossbows, and kills him. She’s acquitted of the killing by reasons of self-defense, and she and Jonathan try to put their life back together. But the burglar apparently had an accomplice; an antique set of silverware has gone missing. They file a claim for it, and this brings them to the attention of Roland Copping.

Roland is, at his best, eccentric. He dabs his fingers in Beth’s paintings. He arrives at odd hours of the night or morning, without concern for the inconvenience, often to ask just a single question. He likes toys even more than Jonathan does, and especially loves pranks; there are several scenes that consist of him just pranking innocent bystanders with some of the most cliche and juvenile gags. In many ways, he has never grown up. And he is wholeheartedly devoted to caprice; any major decision involves him taking out a die, assigning three of its numbers to a particular outcome, and rolling it. He’s Two-Face without the physical scarring… but not without the sinister intent. When Roland has convinced himself the Wheats are frauds, he begins tormenting them mercilessly, and trying to shake them down for everything they’re worth.

Who would have thought the answer to “Who could intimidate Hugo Weaving” was Phil Collins?

Collins does surprisingly well as Roland; he always seems like he’s just on the verge of bursting out laughing, and by the time the climax of the film comes, it’s possible to believe him capable of anything. Hugo Weaving, of course, is always good, and Frauds is no exception; as Jonathan gradually loses his cool, we see him morph from a typical mild yuppie into the kind of scenery-chewing madman we have come to associate with Weaving. And Josephine Byrnes fits perfectly as the desperate and exhausted Beth, who just wants an ending to all of it. The interactions between the three of them all feel very believable.

Director Stephan Elliott also did well, as the film has a tight, fast-moving narrative, and is always entertaining. There’s a small flaw in that the prologue, featuring Roland’s childhood, doesn’t actually name Roland, making it very easy to think it was Jonathan at first (since Jonathan is introduced before adult Roland), but the confusion is resolved fairly early. And the writing on the film is pretty good; it’s a dark comedy, and Roland manages to be funny and sinister at the same time. Also, the set building deserves some praise; Roland’s house is a real wonder to behold.

Even if what one wonders is “Who thought up this monstrosity?”

Frauds is an entertaining, odd little film, held together by the quirky plot and the performances of its stars. I wouldn’t have expected Phil Collins to be a great actor, but he works really well here, well enough that I wouldn’t have any qualms seeing other films starring him. The film may not be for quite everybody, but if you enjoy a darkly comedic game of cat-and-mouse, Frauds fills the niche nicely.

Rating: 4 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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6 Responses to Frauds

  1. Mark Walker says:

    My god Morgan, where do you get these old film’s from? 😀
    I can’t say I’ve seen this one but I remember it kicking around.

  2. This one wasn’t ringing any bells until that last picture. I totally remember that creepy face near the bottom left.

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