Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 87 minutes
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On occasion, the most laudable achievements can have the most unfortunate repercussions. I’m thinking of M. Night Shyamalan’s exhilarating thriller The Sixth Sense. Without a doubt, the picture will prove among the most durable of our time. At the same time, it sounded the starting gun for a competition among filmmakers everywhere to out-twist its famous last minute surprise. In the years since that film’s release I’ve had to endure a lot of rickety story resolutions, but none has sunk to the depth of the cheap trick pulled at the end of the latest from James (“Cop Land”) Mangold.
“Identity” steams my broccoli big time and not just because its surprise twist is an insult to the intelligence of every audience member. What makes me even madder about movies like this is that the people who make them play a rigged game. It’s a reviewer’s job, after all, to warn you when a motion picture isn’t worth your time and to tell you why. Even further up the list of the film critic’s ten commandments, however, is his or her obligation not to spoil the story for you. The producers of movies with ludicrous last minute twists know they’ve got a free pass. They can come up with the dumbest, least plausible plot development in film history and rest assured their secret will be guarded by the very people who’d like to out it most.
So I write this with both hands all but tied behind my back. Movie critic law permits me to reveal little beyond what you probably already know: Ten strangers take shelter at a desert motel on a dark and stormy night and, one by one, a la Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians begin dropping like flies. Well, like flies that get blown up, run over, shot and beheaded.
John Cusack’s a limo driver and former cop. Ray Liotta’s associated with law enforcement too. The two jockey for power somewhat as all motel hell breaks loose. Rebecca DeMornay, Amanda Peet, John C. McGinley and Jake Busey also appear. Though, in some cases, quite briefly.
No one can leave because the only road has been flooded in both directions. The phone is out, naturally. The radio in Liotta’s squad car won’t work either. Every time one of the group turns up dead, the rest become more terrified and suspicious of one another though not enough apparently for everybody to just agree to sit in one room all together and keep an eye on each other until the weather clears. Duh, problem solved.
Instead, one dimensional character after one dimensional character wanders off alone looking for the darkest, most dangerous part of the motor inn and meets with a gruesome demise. If this were the history of human evolution rather than a movie, the species would long since have vanished from the planet.
And that’s about all I can say. The uniformly dour ensemble is effective enough, one or two sequences are momentarily jolting and overall the tone is suitably ominous, if in a vaguely Mike Myers might be right around the corner way. Motel or no motel, we’re far from Hitchcock country here, though the film does occupy a special place in movie history. The sound stage on which it was shot was the site of the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Putting the pieces of the puzzle together might have proven mildly amusing had the third act’s ridiculous twist not barged in and reduced the whole affair to a bad joke. But it does and it’s on everybody who bought a ticket.
I might not be able to tell you what happens. On the other hand, I’m at liberty to let you know what doesn’t: No way do you check out this tourist trap and leave with the remotest intention of ever checking back in.
Posted on April 28, 2003 in Reviews by Rick Kisonak
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