Published Apr 01, 2003Why isn't Identity called Identity Crisis? Identity exudes a philosophical serious-mindedness that is completely unnecessary for any enjoyment of this movie. Its characters are in a state of shock or pain or fear and the furthest thing from any of their minds is "who am I?" Eventually this has some relevance, but I don't want to be a spoilsport so I won't go there.
Classically drawing on the "group of strangers stranded in a remote motel in an impenetrable rainstorm where they begin to fall victim to a murderer one by one" gambit, writer Michael Cooney and director Mangold crank up the volume on the original Agatha Christie BBC version. There are scenes when this works well, notably when the terror of the situation is so intertwined with personal crisis that we are confused about the source of the hysteria.
Clea Duvall and William Lee Scott play young newlyweds unhinged by their own insecurities and are two performers enough untainted by fame to give really visceral performances. Conversely, the musical scoring, shocks and screams conform so much to cliché that, set in the proverbial seedy motel, the atmosphere feels quaint, not genuinely frightening. The same is true of the script. These stars, including John Cusack and Ray Liotta, are supposed to be strangers, but the stock roles they play and their overly familiar relationships make it feel as though they've met often in earlier versions.
An additional plot line explains why these characters are so familiar to one another, and reclassifies this movie as a psychological thriller, not a mystery. This twist is the payoff and the explanation for a number of previously inexplicable phenomena, but the result is unsatisfying because the thrills along the way have not been modulated to relate to the premise, only to get a gasp or a laugh. If you aren't misled by the Jean-Paul Sartre book glimpsed early in the movie to expect profundity, you might be passably distracted. (Columbia/Sony)