Identity (review)

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Bought, Processed, Sold

Ya tell yourself: It sorta looks like yer standard horror/slasher flick in the trailers and the TV ads… but surely there’s gotta be something more there to attract the likes of John Cusack and Ray Liotta. And it’s not all horny high-schoolers getting laid and then getting decapitated or disemboweled or something really really gross and cool as punishment cuz, well, Cusack and Liotta are like 30something and there’s really no kids at all in the thing, except one creepy little kindergartner. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

No, you expect quality from a man — that is, Cusack — who once railed against things bought, processed, and sold. Not that I confuse actors with the characters they play, but Cusack inspires a certain trust. But then what happens, when you’re all settled in and you’ve got your Twizzlers or your popcorn or whatever and Identity starts to unspool, is that cuz you can’t bear to think that Cusack would betray us, you keep trying to convince yourself that the flick is trying to be more than what it seems. What it seems to be is a cliché-ridden serial-killer-on-the-loose thing — creepy motels and constant rain and menacing shower curtains and the creepy kid and everyone’s a suspect and, I swear to god, a really, really blatant 10-little-Indians thing, a literal countdown of death. It’s like every straight-to-video horror flick ever made, in a Cuisinart, only that whirring sound you hear is Hitch, spinning in his grave.

But it’s gotta be a parody, right? I mean, all horror movies are pretty much parodies of themselves by now, and this is gonna turn out to be a sly and subtle commentary on our expectations for horror films and will bring us some enlightenment about the kind of demented people who say things bloody murder onscreen can be “really really gross and cool.”

And ya hope and ya stick with Cusack — Johnny, save us! — all the way until the moment when Identity reveals that Yes, indeedy, it has pretensions other than finding inventive new uses for baseball bats and motel room keys. And No, it was not being intentionally funny up to this point.

And you’re mad, because now you feel like you’ve been bought, processed, and sold. You’ve been doing your damnedest to muster your sympathy for all these hapless folk, stranded by a torrential rainstorm in a motel in the middle of the Nevada desert: Cusack (Being John Malkovich, Max) the limo driver (or is he?) and Liotta (John Q, Hannibal) the cop (or is he?) and John Hawkes (Taken, The Perfect Storm) the innkeeper (or is he?) and Amanda Peet (Igby Goes Down, High Crimes) the hooker and… It’s exhausting just thinking about all their secrets and lies and all the utterly nonsensical stuff we saw them do and say and live through — the bizarre coincidences that brought them all to the motel so they could die one by one, the absurd conversations. And then, in a moment, none of it matters, and we’re supposed to be too busy gasping in shock and surprise to realize that. None of it matters not because this is only a movie and nobody’s really dead and nobody ever really existed anyway. None of it matters because the movie never really wanted us to care about them anyway and has only been stringing us along to this moment of shock and surprise. This may be the cheatingest movie I’ve ever seen.

And to think that it was only a few short months ago when one of the most original movies in years, in its rage against Hollywood’s buying, processing, and selling of stuff, damn near prophesied the coming of Identity. That other movie was being satirical, attempting to posit a story that would be beyond the pale, so ludicrous that even Hollywood would scoff at it, and here Hollywood proves itself beyond satire by producing a story so similar that the comparison is impossible to ignore.

(Don’t click to read my review of this other film until you’ve seen Identity or plan not to, cuz it’ll likely spoil Identity for you.)

When you shake your head in disbelief at what Cusack and Liotta have done to us and you wonder Why? Why?, recall that, the same discerning minds — their own or their people’s — also picked such winners as America’s Sweethearts, for Cusack, and Heartbreakers, for Liotta. And though director James Mangold gave us the sublime Cop Land, he also inflicted upon us — the horror, the horror — Kate & Leopold.

And screenwriter Michael Cooney is also responsible for the odious and terrifying Jack Frost, which may be a first for a screenwriter: He wrote a comedy that was horrifyingly bad, and now, a horror movie that’s hilariously awful.

Correction 04.26.03 It has been pointed out to me that Michael Cooney did not, in fact, write the crappy 1998 comedy Jack Frost — he wrote the crappy 1996 thriller Jack Frost. The Flick Filosopher regrets the error, though she’s not sure which error she means: her mistake of fact or that either Jack Frost ever saw the light of day.

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