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A review of Identity

Identity (R)
Columbia TriStar Pictures

James Mangold's Identity is both a whodunit and a wet-your-pants whentheygunnadoit that begs the question of Columbia TriStar Pictures, didtheyneedtodoit?

James Mangold is responsible for a testosterone ennui jamboree called Copland, as well as the underrated indie hit Heavy. Identity is his horror foray that's something of an M. Night Shyamalan pop thriller with a touch of Fangoria magazine sensibility. Though it toys with Agatha Christie's 10 Little Indians, it's not a full-blown Scream satire. But if you like placing yourself on an emotional roller coaster with things that go bump (and bleed like hell) in the night, but don't wish to get bogged down in too much substance, then this is your movie.

So how 'bout a horror film inventory? Isolated decrepit motel: Check. Phone lines rendered useless because of freakish storm: Yep. Inexplicably silent child: Uh huh. Assortment of dubious adults with varying degrees of tolerance for duress: You betcha. All that's missing is their propensity for infighting and isolating themselves in dank rooms and dark alleys. Oh wait, we got that too.

Identity is set in a Nevada motel only Norman Bates could love. The roads are flooded and so it's not long before the cadavers start piling in. There's John Cusack as a Sartre-reading ex-cop turned chauffeur who has, much to his dismay, run down a woman on the side of the road. Also checking in is the whore with a heart of gold (Amanda Peet), as well as Ray Liotta as a cop escorting a con, and John C. McGinley as an effete stepdad whose wife was sideswiped by Cusack.

Cusack gets the heads rolling by sniffing out his boss's (Rebecca DeMornay) severed noggin spinning away on tumble dry. Next to each corpse is the room key with a progressively higher number. One by one the bodies mount in seemingly unrelated and impressively repulsive ways until the final four realize that they share something in common ...

At risk of spoilsport disclosure, Identity opens with the recordings of interviews with death row convict Pruitt Taylor Vince and the motel bloodsport is interrupted by an eleventh-hour stay hearing where a team of defense lawyers plead a split personality insanity plea for their Sling Blade look-alike client.

The onus is on you to connect the dots between the two scenarios. If you figured out The Sixth Sense, you'll probably crack the code within a half hour. But even if you don't, you'll enjoy the performances of Liotta and Cusack whose Alan Alda-ish affability increases with every film.

Unfortunately, the Cliffs Notes denouement is as trite as anything you might find in Child's Play. Identity is deftly directed and manages to hop back and forth through reel time with impressive grace. Scary? Yep. Bloody? By the gallon! Remember it two days later? Only if you're a film critic.

-- John Dicker

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