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Movie Review: ╬Identity' #1 at box office today, forgotten tomorrow

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
John Cusack and Amanda Peet are part of the ensemble cast in "Identity." The characters desperately look for the connections between them, while a killer methodically murders each of them.
By Mark Betancourt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday May 1, 2003

Are American audiences stupid, or is Hollywood just treating us that way?

Whoever came up with the idea for "Identity" probably didn't want to treat anyone any way in particular, but just had a good idea for a movie. Or at least something that could have been a good idea for a movie.

Somewhere between this first moment of creativity and the film's release, something went terribly wrong. The good idea was pushed into a little two-minute spiel at the end of the film, and the monkeys who make Hollywood movies read the computer printouts in their little cells, cut and pasted from all the slasher films ever made, and pieced together the final product.
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One would think it can't be all the director's fault that his movie turned out so badly; James Mangold wrote and directed "Girl, Interrupted," which is at least a little thoughtful.

John Cusack is in the movie; he's good. It's probably not his fault, either.

Oh, wait, the writer. Wrote and directed "Jack Frost" and "Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman." Bingo.

Hence the psycho killer-loose-in-a-remote-desert-motel plot. A bunch of flat characters stall for running time while their astounding incompetence drives the plot laboriously forward. You've seen it a thousand times.

There are a few interesting twists to this one, though. Seemingly random events bring 11 people together at this motel; they start dying in different gruesome ways. Things get a bit more curious and then, later, much more curious.

But really, it hurts to watch. Each time someone dies gruesomely, John Cusack and the other actors have to somehow muster a new "Oh my God" face, say "Oh my God" a little differently, or make their lips quiver just a little more than the last time.

Needless to say, by the time the seventh or eighth person gets snuffed, the actors just stand there waiting for the director to say, "Cut." Cusack looks like the murders are getting to his character, but he's really just tired of being in this movie.

This is the sad truth about this film; it just sucks too much. The dialogue is terrible. The plot is unreasonably focused on tension and suspense when it should be exploring the more character-based depths of a potentially interesting premise.

It's as if all the hotshot producers had a meeting with the filmmakers and said, "No, you can't make a good movie. People don't like good movies. People like to see the shadows of guys holding butcher knives above their heads as they walk past windows. People won't understand your idea, but remember: They're easily spooked, they respond best to sex and gore ¸ especially if they're combined ¸ and they really don't like it when you make them think. They get upset and publish insulting letters about you."

Whether that's true, Holly-wood is certainly making movies as if it is. This film could have been genuinely interesting and thoughtful. It would still be scary, tense and exciting, but it would also be memorable, intricate and worth watching again. Unfortunately, it's not.

As it is, this film is totally forgettable. Some people will rent it on video, they'll shrug and say "eh," then it will become that movie you always see in the horror section, the one whose cover you recognize but you've never seen.

But those producers will have reamed us good first. "Identity" is No. 1 at the box office this week. Somebody's paying to see it. Whether we're morons or not, our money says we are, and what our money says goes.

Remember that next time you go to the movies to see any old thing that's playing. You're a consumer, and you make what you see.

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