Identity Movie Review

If, like me, you've been seeing trailers for Identity all year -- with its rain-soaked cast, rickety motel, slowly dying characters, and disappearing bodies -- then, like me, you have absolutely no clue what this movie is supposed to be about.

After spending 90 minutes in a screening during which the highlight was a print that caught on fire and melted halfway through the performance, I'm not terribly closer to knowing myself.

John Cusack takes center stage as a limo driver caught in that omnipresent storm. He ends up stuck in the Bates Motel (er, just a regular motel) with nine other strangers, including the motel's hicktastic manager (John Hawkes), a hooker (Amanda Peet), a rule-crazy milquetoast (John C. McGinley), and a girl whose sole purpose seems to be to weep (Clea DuVall). Mixing things up are a cop (Ray Liotta) and his prisoner (Jake Busey), also needing shelter for the night.

It's not long before the body count starts rising, each corpse with a cryptic room key being deposited next to it. Soon it becomes apparent that the numbered keys are counting down from 10. Who's the killer? And who will be the sole survivor?

Surprisingly, the answers to both of those questions are ultimately meaningless -- Identity doesn't just throw us a plot twist, it throws it to us in the middle of the movie, obviating everything that passed before and setting the audience up for one of the least satisfying thriller finales ever produced. To explain why this is the case would probably give away too much, but if you've seen the trailer and consider the actual title of the film for two seconds, you'll have it figured out before long, too.

Brought to us by Kate & Leopold director James Mangold and screenwriter Michael Cooney (who wrote horror flicks Jack Frost and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman), this production has little of the talent required for an intelligent horror/thriller. I'd give Mangold and Cusack the benefit of the doubt, but neither fits the mold for this work. Cusack turns in a fair enough performance but looks a little bored. Peet can be fun, especially when playing a whore, but her histrionics can't save the film. This is Mangold's first direction of a script he didn't write and his only thriller to date; he's simply out of his element.

But it's Identity the script that is truly awful, like some cut-rate Halloween sequel or a mass-produced horror paperback. The ending is telegraphed from miles away, as countless clues are peppered throughout the film. I guess we're not supposed to really notice them, but of course we do because we're so bored, waiting for some action. The only red herring is the oldest cliché in the book, as Cooney, honest-to-God, trots out the old Indian burial ground motif once again. I could go on about how, as bodies pile up outside, each of the characters finds some personal crisis to deal with, sending them out alone into the rain (and the arms of the killer), but without this conceit we would lose the only truly scary scene in the entire movie.

Absurdity can be fun in horror/thrillers. Final Destination was a ridiculous guilty pleasure that was about as stupid as they came. But the metaphysical nonsense of Identity is just too much to bear. I was laughing right along with the rest of the audience during the final minutes.

Watch what he does with the birdcage in act three!


Identity Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2003


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