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Worth A Look: 18.75%
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Pretty Bad75%
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2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Unknown (2006)
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by Erik Childress

"A (blank) By Any Other Name Is Still (blank)"
2 stars

It’s a well-known secret amongst debut filmmakers that the way into a second feature is to dazzle audiences and executives with some kind of gimmick flick or trick ending, normally within the crime genre. It paid off pretty well for Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), Christopher Nolan (Memento) and James Wan (Saw) and not so well for the dozens of copycats who never learned one of the first lessons of film school. Gimmicks doth never prosper, for if it prospered, film surveyors none dare call it a gimmick cause the filmmaker or screenwriter had more to offer than just a riddle (or a classic quote paraphrased.) Simon Brand and Matthew Waynee may have tried to get around that rule by including just about every gimmick employed by the aforementioned directors, but here’s hoping they take a remedial course before their next film.

A man (James Caviezel) wakes up in a warehouse. He has no idea where he is, why he’s been put there and possibly WHO he even is. And he’s not alone. Finding no way out, he discovers four other men who have been knocked out. One is tied to a chair (Joe Pantoliano), a second has a head injury on the floor (Greg Kinnear), a third is handcuffed to a railing and left dangling over the side with a bullet wound to his shoulder (Jeremy Sisto) and a mistrustful fourth (Barry Pepper) wakes up just in time telling Man #1 not to untie Man #2. Not one of them has any memory of why they’re there or who they are.

A phone call does come in though and the man on the other end seems to know Caviezel’s voice. A luger has been left behind in error in a desk and they are coming by sundown. Meanwhile across town, a ransom drop is going down by a scared woman (Bridget Moynihan) and a collection of cops that’s clearly related to the five men in the middle of the desert. Thanks to a newspaper that’s been left behind, these John Does piece together the following facts:

(1) They’ve been there for, at least, two days.
(2) A tycoon and his business partner have been kidnapped
(3) That makes three of them – the kidnappers.

Ooooh, intriguing! Two good guys. Three bad guys. And they don’t even know it. Their memories do begin slowly coming back on them, lost thanks to a noxious chemical that’s knocked them out for at least two days without killing them, and they must decide to trust their instincts or work together against the impending foes.

This makes for a potentially interesting sociological experiment. If you lost all identity of yourself, could you just as easily start over and create a whole new persona for yourself? Does memory define our actions and, in essence, ourselves? The answer to that is to go watch Memento. Anything intriguing in this realm is basically left to an afterthought in-between the plotting which doesn’t get past whatever cleverness in the setup that hasn’t been lifted from about a dozen other setups.

Puzzles as such though can be fun for a while, if only cause you always want to know the answer. That allows us to forgive any lack of urgency in the pacing, including cutaways to two cops trying to trackdown a face at the ransom scene and everyone looking into a mirror remembering their past or just stepping up and saying “hey, I remember something.” There’s literally a moment when it appears each character is going to get one big reminiscence that everyone will listen to intently – and it’s done with such absorbed concentration that it wouldn’t be out of the realm for Phoebe Cates to enter and start anecdoting holiday tragedies again.

The gimmick wears off quickly though and when it becomes time to fight back, the mano-a-mano is so poorly constructed that it’s more clouded than the hazy flashbacks we’ve been allowed as clues. And it only gets worse from there as the solution doesn’t become the final solution and we’re left with not one, but two extra twists of increasing absurdity that reveal just how shameless Brand the director and Waynee the writer are about lifting plot devices without an ounce of parody or homage. Even Brian DePalma would have twisted them just a few degrees. You’re liable to have more fun deconstructing the illogic of the film (did everyone forget about that luger?) afterwards in place of realizing the 80 minutes that could have been better spent watching Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, Memento, Saw or just half of The Departed.

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originally posted: 11/10/06 16:04:44
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User Comments

6/17/11 mr.mike Was "no bad". 4 stars
5/05/08 Albaab meh..just gets by 4 stars
5/19/07 David Pollastrini good concept 5 stars
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  01-Nov-2006 (NR)
  DVD: 30-Jan-2007

  DVD: 13-Aug-2007

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