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Identity
2003 - R - Mins.
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Stuart M. Besser, Cathy Konrad
Written By: Michael Cooney
Starring: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall
Review by: David Trier
   
Every good thriller has a good gimmick and the test is whether or not it can sustain a feature-length script. So I guess this really isn't that much of a thriller.

In the midst of a rainstorm, a series of bad drivers find themselves trapped at a sleazy motel. They include a nerdy wimp (John C. McGinley), his little boy and injured wife, an ex-cop limo driver (John Cusack), a pompous has-been actress (Rebecca DeMornay), a shady cop (Ray Liotta), a convict (Jake Busey), a runaway hooker (Amanda Peet), two bickering newlyweds (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott) and the guy running the motel (John Hawkes). Is that enough characters for ya? Should we throw in a pair of siamese twins and a traveling circus?! Anyway, one by one, they seem to be meeting gruesome ends. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) is trying to convince a panel of suits that his murdering patient (Pruitt Taylor Vince) shouldn't be executed on account of his mental illness. Might these two stories be related?

The film's greatest asset is its "killer" cast. Although many are simply recreating roles from previous films, most are a pleasure to watch. Cusack is a believable good guy (even in films where he's unfaithful... or a hitman) and it's nice to see him in something that isn't romantic comedy. John C. McGinley, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Alfred Molina (although his character is a little flat) are certainly some of the best character actors of our time. John Hawkes (The Perfect Storm) probably gives the best performance in the film as Larry the freaked out motel guy. Ray Liotta reprises his role from Narc while Jake Busey does his from The Frighteners.

Identity might have made an excellent HBO film or a tight episode of Tales from the Crypt, but leaves you feeling pretty bland as a $9.00 ticket. After a series of mildly memorable but altogether uneventful films like Kate & Leopold and Cop Land, director James Mangold is not able to create any real tension in this film. Oh, there's plenty of murder, which is always good fun, but aside from the occasionally well orchestrated car crash, there don't seem to be any real jump-out-of-your-seat thriller moments. You would think this was essential. I did. But nothing lurking behind the door is really all that awe inspiring. And it frankly isn't that hard to guess who the killer is.

What makes things worse is that the film's only big reveal makes the plight of this unnecessarily long cast totally irrelevant. Obviously, I can't give it away or it would indeed make the whole movie irrelevant because it hinges entirely on this one idea. Like The Sixth Sense, there are subtle allusions to this idea, but no proof until the last act. Of course, once we "get it" the final twenty minutes of the film are completely pointless. We wouldn't bother worrying too much about Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense if we knew he was dead the whole time (uh, you knew that already, right?).

Perhaps the real genius of this script is that it keeps movie critics from being able to discuss the real problem with its simplistic and literalist view of (insert actual subject of film here) without giving away the fact that it's really all about (insert actual subject of film here). Identity deserves good marks for casting and performance, but bad marks for directing, bad science, dependence on one idea and its derivitive epilogue.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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