review by Gregory Avery, 25 April 2003

In the new thriller Identity, several people find themselves stranded at a remote motel, off the main highway, one dark and storm night. The roads in either direction are washed out. There's no cable T.V. The diner's closed. It's difficult to even get a signal for one's cell phone. The bed linen at least appears to be clean, but, before long, the stranded travelers start getting bumped off, one by one, by a mysterious killer.

And that's not the only strange thing going on. Nobody, it seems, is who they appear to be. And the story of the people at the motel is cross-cut, in the picture, with some business involving a stay of execution for a confessed killer (played by Pruitt Taylor Vince) who has a multiple-personality disorder. What does he have to do with the murders that begin occurring at the motel? Is the story that we're watching, there, a flashback, or even a flash-forward? Is there some psychic or supernatural element going on, especially once the now-potential victims at the motel find out that they all share some unexpected similarities?

Truth be told, Identity, which James Mangold directed from an original screenplay by Michael Cooney, isn't as clever as it would like to be, or, for that matter, needs to be. For one thing, the movie doesn't give the actors who have been lured into playing sitting ducks in the picture much room to build characters whom we can become involved with, although some of them give it a good try -- John Cusack, who plays a limo driver who's also a former cop (he has police skills, plus, as it turns out, medic skills, which certainly come in helpful); John C. McGinley as a nervous, fussy, rattled man with a critically-injured wife; and Rebecca DeMornay, long off the screen, as a demanding movie star who gets very put-out because someone tried to book her accommodations at a Ramada Inn. (Hers is the only character whom, after the movie's over, you wish had stayed around for a little while longer.)

The picture starts out showing how a series of coincidences ends up turning into a skein of things which pulls all the different characters towards the motel, same place at the same time. But before, and even after, it springs its big surprise revelation, what the movie ends up depending on the most is, for Pete's sake, the boring old modus operandi of the slasher movie genre, in which people do incredibly dumb things which end up getting them killed. And the surprise revelation also has a boomerang effect of, to put it as delicately as possible, calling into question everything that we had been watching for the first two-thirds of the picture, in such a way as to negate any feeling we may have been having towards anything that has been going on. Mangold's direction keeps things going at a good clip, at least, and he and the cinematographer Phedon Papamichael try to come up with about as many good ways to show people lurking around in the pouring rain during pitch-dark surroundings as they can. But the picture needs something more -- the visual style or mischievous degrees of energy that Brian De Palma might've brought to both staging and telling the story on film, for instance, or the rich, enveloping atmosphere of possible ominousness that Hideo Nakata brought to his two "Ring" films --to make it somewhat more worth our while. The picture doesn't leave you feeling bummed out at the end, but you are left sitting in your seat with a "so what?" feeling as the end credits start to unfurl. Approach this as you may.

Directed by:
James Mangold

John Cusack
Amanda Peet
Ray Liotta
John Hawkes
John C. McGinley
Clea DuVall
William Lee Scott
Alfred Molina
Jake Busey
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Rebecca DeMornay

Written by:
Michael Cooney

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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