A violent Nevada thunderstorm has washed out all the roads surrounding a local
hotel, leaving a cop (Ray Liotta) and his prisoner (Jake Busey), a prostitute
(Amanda Peet), a Hollywood star (Rebecca De Mornay) and her driver (John
Cusack), a family (including John C. McGinley), and a pair of newlyweds (Clea
DuVall and William Lee Scott) stranded for the night. Soon enough, as the
strangers struggle to figure out the connection that brought all of them to this
motel at the same time, a killer amongst them is taking them down one by one,
leaving a trail of clues behind that don't add up.
There are secrets to be learned, and excitement to be had with "Identity," (IMDb listing) but
it is far from a satisfying roll in the (bloody) hay. The film is directed by
James Mangold, a filmmaker who has spent his career specializing in sluggish
stories, some good ("Girl, Interrupted, "Cop Land"), and some not
("Kate And Leopold," "Heavy"). What Mangold brings to "Identity" is a huge
discharge of stress, as he takes the reigns of the Michael Cooney-scripted
horror/thriller/whodunit, and rides the heavily Hitchcock-influenced film like a
bat out of hell. There is a renewed sense of pacing, fulfilling doses of blood
and violence, and a cast that barely stays put throughout the film. Even when
the picture breaks down on him, Mangold appears to be having the time of his
life, arranging death set pieces methodically, and piling on oodles of tension
as generously as if it had just arrived in a crate at the dollar store.
"Identity" moves very quickly, and engages the mind as the best mysteries do.
Nothing this energetically paced and methodically mounted has come out of
Mangold before, and for 80 spellbinding minutes, I felt the cool breath of a
director who had found his pulse again.
At the 80 minute mark, something dreadful happens to "Identity." Without giving
away too much of the grand finale, I will say that the filmmakers completely
cheat the viewing experience with their answer to the mystery they've presented.
The resolution negates the entire film, and I will leave it at that. As a
thriller, the picture simply crackles with delight. As a horror film, it
finds wonderfully macabre corners from time to time. But Mangold and Cooney don't
want to be nailed down to genres that are considered unseemly by many. They want
to go bigger with their ideas, ruining the experience by not following through
with what they started.
There is a damn fine piece of filmmaking to be found in "Identity," and it
delivers all the necessary jolts and thrills this type of genre demands.
Nevertheless, my advice would be to leave the theater 80 minutes into the film,
go home and make up your own ending. Believe me, anything you could
come up with would be a major improvement over what the filmmakers selected.
Filmfodder Grade: B