Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 24, 2003
Imperfect 10

Imperfect 10 Weíre all left guessing a killerís Identity in this ludicrous thriller.


An ambitious film that strains to be a mind-bending supernatural thriller, Identity is a narrative experiment that goes horribly, disastrously wrong. This movie plays much like the ridiculous script for the thriller The 3 (as described in Adaptation).

Most of the film takes place during a rainy night at a desolate Nevada motel. (Did you spot how the location was ripped off from Psycho? Good for you!) Family man George York (John C. McGinley) is stranded when his car blows a tire after running over a spike heel lost by a Las Vegas prostitute named Paris (Amanda Peet). While George is trying to repair his tire, his wife (Leila Kenzle) is struck by a limo driven by Edward (John Cusack), a burned-out ex-cop whoís ferrying a diva-like Hollywood actress (Rebecca De Mornay). The roads are flooded and the phones are down, so everyone is stranded at the motel, along with the clerk (John Hawkes), a young married couple (William Lee Scott and Clea DuVall), and a police officer (Ray Liotta) transporting a convicted murderer (Jake Busey).

Now wait a second, you might say. A cop is transporting a dangerous, violent killer on an empty stretch of road in the middle of the night by himself? Thatís dumb! Itís no dumber, however, than the actress venturing alone into a deserted courtyard behind the motel in an attempt to get her cell phone to work. Hasnít she seen movies like this? Doesnít she know that someoneís going to be hiding amid the junk surrounding the courtyard, waiting to take advantage of the fact that her sightlines are cut off by the raincoat that sheís holding over her head? Doesnít she suspect that sheíll be the first victim of someone waiting to kill off all 10 of these people one by one?

The thing is, the big plot twist about 80 minutes into the film is supposed to explain all of this: the unbelievable coincidences, the stupid behavior, the hackneyed characters. The first problem with this idea is that the coincidences, behavior, and characters are so unbelievable, stupid, and hackneyed that by the time the explanation kicks in, you donít care anymore. The second problem is that itís not well set up ó the goings-on at the motel are interspersed with a plot involving the mental competency hearing of another killer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) thatís so unrelated to everything else that we know itíll eventually be the key to solving the mystery. The twist is supposed to cast doubt on the reality of what weíve been seeing, but the filmmakers donít hint until late in the game that things arenít what they seem. Until that point, the movie plays like an ordinary slasher flick with a talented, if badly served, cast. (Cusack and Liotta skate by on their cool tough-guy acts, but Peet, McGinley, and DuVall ó appealing actors in other circumstances ó are all reduced to screaming their heads off in the rain.) The third problem is that the story elements arenít as neatly tied together as the filmmakers seem to think. I canít go into much detail without giving stuff away, but I can say the reason why the copís by himself makes no more sense than his solo appearance in the first place. The final revelation manages to be more laughable than anything else that precedes it, which is saying a great deal.

The lesson here is one that should be evident to most moviegoers. Films like The Sixth Sense and The Others are extremely difficult to pull off. The writing needs more care than with other types of films, because the audience needs to be drawn in and the plotlines need to track. The direction in a supernatural thriller also needs to strike the right note; we need to mistrust what weíre seeing to some degree, but not so much that we get lost or suspect the filmmakers of being arbitrary. Screenwriter Michael Cooney, whose other major credit is a direct-to-video horror flick about a killer snowman (yes, thatís right) called Jack Frost, doesnít have near the finesse for a project like this. On the contrary, this movie traffics in bad dialogue by the yard. Director James Mangold has had an extremely varied career (the romantic comedy Kate & Leopold, the mental institution drama Girl, Interrupted, the police thriller Cop Land), and his inexperience with this kind of film proves fatal. His idea of atmosphere is soaking everything in that damn rain. Whether itís a victim discovered with a baseball bat shoved down his throat, or the motel clerkís insane story about how he lucked into his job, the movie is continually making new mistakes. Some cinematic failures are dull, but thereís a perverse fascination to watching Identity as it implodes.

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