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Jake Busey practices being "light as a feather, stiff as a board."

© 2003, Sony
All Rights Reserved

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

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