Reviewed By The Ultimate Dancing Machine
Posted 04/27/03 17:50:35

"The Movie that Wasn't There"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Some people disagree, but I don't see anything wrong with revealing that a film contains a Big Surprise Twist--provided, of course, that you don't say WHAT it is exactly. It's difficult to describe IDENTITY without reference to the Big Twist, as the film is essentially constructed atop it. Problem is, in IDENTITY the Big Twist sucks, and when it arrives it sends the whole production crashing like a house of cards.

The setup goes like this: A bizarre series of Rube Goldberg-ish coincidences bring a pack of disparate strangers together in a remote rural motel during one dark and stormy night. Their number include a cop (Ray Liotta), the prisoner he's transporting, an ex-cop (John Cusack), and a stuck-up actress (Rebecca De Mornay). All the sudden, they begin to get bumped off one by one--and there's no logical explanation for the killings. What's going on?

The film does eventually provide an answer, though not one you're likely to find satisfactory; but in truth IDENTITY begins falling apart before then. Directed James Mangold seems to be addicted to the full gamut of horror-flick cliches. I noted with considerable astonishment that he literally tries to create suspense and ambiguity by making the viewer guess which dumb cliche he's employing. At times IDENTITY looks like just another lame slasher movie--after all, that's the only kind of flick where dead bodies show up in washing machines. On another occasion, he hints that a nearby Indian burial ground (sigh...) might be the source of the problem. And have you ever noticed that no one in the entire history of film has ever transported a prisoner from one location to another without something going wrong?

As for the Big Twist... don't worry, I won't spill the beans. I'll just say this: Raymond Chandler once argued that a successful mystery tale must fulfill two requirements: One, the solution must come as a surprise, and two, it must seem inevitable in retrospect. A good mystery has you smacking yourself in the head, asking, Why didn't I see that coming? It's this second requirement that trips up IDENTITY, which pulls out a Twilight Zone surprise that only creates as many questions as it tries to answer.

Thespianship is, overall, pretty good, with Cusack giving the best performance as the intense but reliable ex-cop. But De Mornay and Liotta both come off as too shrill. De Mornay is admittedly playing a stereotype, but Liotta just tries too hard--he tends to sound like he's had too much caffeine.

A disappointing film.

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