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Side Effects

Identity Thief

February 14, 2013

Side Effects (***) R

Director Steven Soderbergh is probably the most prolific director working in Hollywood today. Not only does he crank his films out at an alarming rate but the finished product always seems to be interesting, which is more than I can say for some directors who choose to make films a lot less frequently. Soderbergh has helmed four movies that received a wide theatrical release in just the last 17 months alone, with a made for HBO film about Liberace coming down the pike later this year. He’s a director who seems to have a real passion for the craft of making movies, which is always a good thing, and so the announcement that his latest film, Side Effects, will be his last theatrically released film is sad news indeed. But enough about the director’s impending retirement, if Soderbergh is indeed leaving the movie business behind, at least he’s leaving things on a high note with this latest cinematic foray, a deliciously twisty thriller with Hitchcockian overtones that offers many rewards for the viewer.

I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for someone to concoct a story about the inherent dangers involved in pharmaceutical drugs, but Side Effects is the first one I’m aware of.

Rooney Mara in Side Effects

Writer Scott Z. Burn’s script revolves around the character of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). In the early scenes of the film we are introduced to Emily and her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) who is attempting to rebuild his life after a stint in the slammer for a white-collar crime he committed. Emily shows signs of depression and attempts to kill herself by running her car at top speed into a brick wall. She survives and chances to meet a psychiatrist at the hospital (Jude Law) who agrees to take her on as a patient and from there things go downhill, for both the doctor and Emily. I’ll be mum on details so as not to spoil some of the film’s surprises but suffice it to say that Emily finds herself committing murder, maybe or maybe not as a result of the meds she has been prescribed. I won’t say any more except that I found myself pleasantly surprised at the twists and turns the film had up its sleeve during its gradual unspooling and I think most viewers will be as well.

The technical credits, as always in a Soderbergh film, are first rate, with the director still showing his flair for expertly staging scenes. Side Effects may be, technically speaking, a small film but its pleasures are far from that. It’s the type of thing that Soderbergh is so good at and I, for one, will be crossing my fingers that he reconsiders that decision to exit from the film business. Something tells me he just might.

Identity Thief (**) R

Much has been made of the fact that Identity Thief is the first lead film role for Melissa McCarthy, the celebrated sidekick of the 2011 film Bridesmaids. I will readily admit it’s certainly something to consider when investing one’s time in McCarthy’s latest comedic foray. In that earlier film, McCarthy was like a breath of fresh air, providing hysterical comic relief to the already humorous goings on of the picture and, since her character wasn’t required in every scene, there was just the right amount of the actress sprinkled about the picture without her wearing out her welcome.  For me, that certainly wasn’t the case with Identity Thief, although much of the fault can’t be pinned sorely on the actress. McCarthy does give it her best but here role in the film is a poorly written one and chock full of clichés in too much of the picture. If there is a case to be made for McCarthy’s abilities to carry a picture, this certainly isn’t it.

The film’s plot is pretty standard stuff and is so full of improbabilities that even the most forgiving moviegoer will find it hard to let some of its inconsistencies slide.

McCarthy & Bateman in Identity Thief

For instance, when McCarthy’s character, Diana (only one of many names she goes by throughout the film) steals the identity of nice-guy accountant Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) and wreaks havoc in a bar, the police zero in on Sandy without even glancing at a photo of the person actually involved in the melee. This, of course, has to happen in order for the plot to kick in, but everyone knows that already. You see, it’s a road picture and so in order for the ‘comedy’ to get off to a running start, Sandy must travel to Florida and bring Dawn back to his home state of Colorado in order to prove his innocence. Of course, along the way it’s to be expected that Dawn and Sandy will encounter all kinds of mishaps, which they do, only to a less funny degree than in most films of the road-trip genre. Many of the gags barely get off the ground or fall completely flat.

Another big problem is that the film is just too long for a comedy film at 110 minutes, and drags when it takes a turn toward the melancholy somewhere near the middle of the picture. Film comedies with multiple plot lines typically get a pass on that rule but when you’re dealing with subject material as simplistic as Identity Thief, it’s awfully hard to justify a running time of nearly two hours. It’s only one of many problems that Identity Thief is saddled with.

These movies are playing at the Carmike Cinemas in Hickory and other area theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam Long at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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