IDENTITY gets confused trying to figure out how to wrap up its plot, leaving many viewers feeling like the film-makers just played an unfair mind-game trick on them, taking 90 irreplaceable minutes out of their mostly-innocent lives. Good actors almost make up for the distinct feeling of being cheated in the last act.
Directed by James Mangold, Michael Cooney’s screenplay is structurally similar to Agatha Christie’s oft-filmed 1939 whodunit “And Then There Were None”. Since this came out in 2003, to suit a less-genteel present-day audience the characters are coarser, the murders are grislier and the language bluer than any Dame Agatha would have used (or ever even heard).
Washed-out roads from a desert rainstorm and time-meets-space circumstances leading to a car v. person accident draw ten people to shelter in an isolated, run-down Nevada motel. Among the group are a cop, an ex-cop, a hooker, newlyweds, a convict, an actress and a family of three. The guy running the hotel is on the sketchy side. At the same time, in another part of the state, lawyers, a doctor and a judge deliberate over whether to go through with executing a maniacal murderer. Meanwhile, back at the inn, the ten start dying—badly—one at a time. Who’s really who, who’s doing it, and who’s next? And good God—all that water….? *
To his credit, director Mangold mostly suggests the horrid killings rather than actually showing them— ala their aftermath or in super-quick snippets, so the horrific aspect is more of the imaginative stew rather than the kind shoved down your throat (well, except for the guy who has to swallow the baseball bat…). The constant rain and lightning storm effects are well done. Best of all is that the lead players are John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet and John Hawkes, with secondary fun nastiness from Rebecca De Mornay, Jake Busey and Pruitt Taylor Vance (who has the bizarre ability to make his eyes flicker back and forth at warp-5). They’re all quite good, and their blend of talents keep you snared, at least until the whole thing disintegrates into OhComeOnVille at the end.
With Alfred Molina (why? easy paycheck has got to be the answer), Clea Duvall, John C. McGinley, Holmes Osborne, William Lee Scott, Bret Loehr, Matthew Letscher, Leila Kenzle. Made for $28,000,000, it grossed $90,200,000, 58th place in the year’s lineup.
* Watching, fairly hooked by the compelling cast, morbidly curious how they were going to end up, and before throwing a cleaver at the screen upon absorbing the full daffiness of the wrap-up, I kept wondering “How much truly precious water went directly into Los Angeles sewers during the two months it took to make this movie?” Not only must it have been a witch-on-heels to shoot for the actors (the sprinkler systems don’t heat it up, y’know?), undergoing continual soaking for weeks on end—but, the W-a-s-t-e….yeah, yeah, “Art”…Note to writer/director: if you’re going to use up amounts of fresh water—in a drought region—sufficient to grow enough crops to feed Asia, can’t you at least come up with a finale that doesn’t provoke homicidal impulses?