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Directed by James Mangold.
Written by Michael Cooney. 
Starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta and Alfred Molina.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  4/28/03 


It’s your classic whodunit, and for a good time with some solid scares and a tricky ending, “Identity” fits the bill in a way that most movies aspire but never attain.

Ten random people end up at a motel somewhere in Nevada since a storm seen only in “The Ten Commandments” hits and everyone gets stranded.  Everyone includes a limo driver and his client, a call girl, a recently-married couple, a family of three, the motel owner, a corrections cop and his prisoner.  During the course of the one night they are stuck at the motel, someone is killing off the random ensemble one by one and it is up to these strangers to figure out why.  Meanwhile, a subplot featuring a convicted killer and his lawyer’s attempts to stave off his rapidly-approaching execution seem to tie into the main plot of the film.

It is the subplot, featuring Alfred Molina as a psychologist trying to decipher the mind of the killer, that helps to keep you guessing as to who really is killing off the strangers...and, it makes this otherwise simple film quite creative in its attempt to shroud the mystery.  In fact, more than any of these mystery films that I can remember seeing over the last five years, you should beat the person in your group with a baseball bat that even tries to pull some “Oh yeah man, I knew it was ___” crap on you.  There is simply no way you’ll know who it is until the very last frame of the film.  And that is because writer Michael Cooney comes up with a plot device that essentially makes it impossible for you to know who it is...and, an assist provided by the film’s marketing department that designed the trailer.  I can’t really explain this last point without giving part of the ending away, but trust me--it had me fooled.

Director James Mangold (“Copland”) does an incredible job to pace the film and to serve up the killings with a dark, gloomy set--the motel--as the film’s spooky background.  He gets great performances out of his oddball collection of actors--character actor John C. McGinley, Rebecca De Mornay, and folks like John Cusack, Amanda Peet (you guessed it--she plays the call girl AGAIN), and Ray Liotta all are solid in their parts as the world around them crumbles.  De Mornay in particular was great; playing an actress that has fallen from the limelight must have struck her as ironic when she read the part, and that she took it speaks to her willingness to take part in a film featuring a script that is this fresh.  Even Jake Busey as the cop’s prisoner makes his three or four scenes quite memorable.

“Identity” won’t win any awards come Oscar time next year but as summer entertainment, “Identity” is very solid stuff.  It starts and finishes in 90 minutes, and the trailers in front of the film were solid--extended takes for “28 Days Later”, “Charlie’s Angels 2”, “S.W.A.T.”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and the Quentin Tarantino action-comedy “Kill Bill” all were well-received.  Damn, I love trailers.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09