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Identity By Matt Singer
Thereís something about John Cusack that instantly lends this air of credibility to anything heís in. He can can make a truly crummy movie, like say American Sweethearts, and through his involvement alone make the whole affair seem more classy and worthwhile. Even though he has made some poor career choices one always has this feeling that he is extremely selective with his projects. Have you ever met someone who didnít like John Cusack? Nearly every other film star of his stature has a loud, obnoxious army of detractors. But I donít think Iíve ever heard someone say ďMan I canít STAND that John Cusack!Ē I think it has to do with his on-screen persona, typically used to create a character of Everyman cool - his hair is better than ours and so are his comebacks, but we always feel like with a little work and a new bottle of gel, we could become him.
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Cusackís latest is a quality B-movie named Identity in which Cusack plays, of all things, a former cop and limo driver named, of all things, Ed Dakota. He and nine other strangers, played by a talented cast including Amanda Peet, Ray Liotta, and John C. McGinley, are trapped at a remote motel in the desert when a powerful rain storm floods every road out of the area. There is naturally a convict in their midst (Jake Busey) who escapes and begins to pick off the stranded travelers one by one.
Or does he? From start to finish, Identity is a movie that calls to you to pay close attention; you almost feel like a dog with his ears perking up any time something happens or a clue seems to be offered to the audience. The marketing and the bouncy nature of the editing - not to mention the wildly improbably series of events that land these ten seemingly unconnected people at this motel - alert us that like The Sixth Sense, a careful eye for detail is rewarded.
I think Identity could have very easily been a failure. Its whole what-the-hell-is-going-on nature (which I will not spoil by delving into any more deeply) means that a lot of the time, you really cannot understand what youíre seeing and the best you can do is simply observe. Enjoyment of this sort of movie requires two things which Identity has: smart enough direction to keep you interested, and a twist juicy and logical enough to tie things together. In this case, give credit to director James Mangold and his crew for wringing every last bit of dread from the tired rainy and deserted motel setting, and Michael Cooney, for a script that tantalizes you with just enough information to let you think you know whatís going on, then the brains to pull the rug out from under you several times.
Rereading a lot of my Slush Factory reviews recently, I became aware of a trend that I had not even noticed; this tendency in a lot of recent movies to tack on ďtwistĒ endings which were neither necessary nor satisfying in anyway. Twists have been popular for decades, but I donít think they were ever this prevalent. When an Adam Sandler comedy has a twist ending (And a really bad one, if youíre at all curious), it is time to reevaluate the deviceís usefulness and implementation. Iím a big fan of a good twist ending, but they are harder and harder to come by these days.
Of course, by even discussing twists in such a way Iím decreasing some of the potential enjoyment; now youíll be looking for a twist while youíre watching which is not the ideal situation. But by now I think word that the movie is particularly sneaky has already gotten out (I knew it when I saw it, and that did not decrease my enjoyment) and just because I have told you something is going to happen doesnít mean youíre going to know what that is. And besides, youíve still got a fine John Cusack performance, even more wounded than normal, to keep you engaged. I actually enjoyed Identity a lot more than I thought I would - as John Cusack thrillers go, this one is a good one.
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