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BEFORE WE BEGIN: Let Steve Martin and Laura Dern explain themselves before the injection kicks in and their mouths go numb and they start drooling all over CrankyCritic® StarTalk
IN SHORT: Uncomfortably Numb. [Rated R for violence, sexuality, language and drug content. 95 minutes]
Those of us old enough to have seen Steve Martin's "wild and crazy guy" routine first hand, in its earliest incarnations, have been pleased to see the way he's managed to tame the frantic comedy and balance it in his movie work with good story selections. Ignore The Jerk and move on, folks. We walked in to our screening of Novocaine expecting the same kind of delicate balance, knowing we were about to see a black comedy, but were disappointed to find a movie much darker than it is amusing. After a good setup of its characters and a wobbly set up for the premise, Novocaine coasts along merrily until it hits its "big surprise ending" which is so ridiculous it deflates the entire moveigoing experience like an old balloon.
Dr. Frank Sangster (Steve Martin, click for StarTalk) is the kind of nice Jewish doctor that any mama would be proud of, except that he's a dentist (which is usually good enough for most Jewish moms). He's got a very successful practice and shows French movies to patients that he operates on. Maybe one day he'll go but, for now, the films lull him in the same way that surgeons play music while they operate.
The office's day to day responsibilities are looked after by Dr. Frank's "personal dental elf," as he calls her, Pat (Lynne Thigpen). The doctor's personal needs are well handled, ahem, by his dental hygienist, Jean Noble (Laura Dern, click for StarTalk). Jean makes the good doctor happy in every way except for one. She won't put out while sitting in "the chair," Frank's one major and majorly unfulfilled sexual fantasy. More on that in a bit. Frank's major headache is the reappearance of his slug of a brother Harlan (Elias Koteas), from the "mom always liked you best" mold. Frank has hired Harlan to do some painting in his house, just an older brother putting his younger brother into a line of work more productive that pushing drugs, only to discover that Harlan would rather pilfer the medicine chest than paint straight lines.
Headache number two will be Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham Carter), a new patient who shows up one day without an appointment or references. Nothing but the need for a root canal to be done as soon as possible. Promising to show up for a 7:30 appointment the next day, Susan talks our trusting soul into prescribing five Demerol "for the pain". Not only does Susan not show up the next morning, she doctors the Rx to read "fifty" Demerol - Frank lies to the pharmacist who calls to check on the prescription. He doesn't confront Susan about it when she shows up twelve hours late, lugging beer and schnapps and looking like a true skank. Why? Well, you know what they say about a man and a dental chair . . .
The next day a panicked Jean tells Frank that $2000 worth of restricted medications are missing from the office . . . and, oh by the way, there's an auditor from the DEA here to have a chat with you. Things move downhill for the doc at a rollercoaster's pace from here on in.
If that doesn't have all the makings of a great thriller, even if there's no comedy, add Susan's violent, incestuous brother Duane (Scott Caan) to the mix. Then sit back and wonder how it all goes wrong as all the ingredients are blended into a unpleasant sludge of a story culminating in murder and a biological act that is just too disgusting and repulsive to even hint about.
Here's a hint as to what goes wrong: there's no chemistry between Martin and Bonham Carter. It doesn't help that she gets skankier as the film progresses. The script confuses frenetic with desperate and by the time things get really bloody, the explanation for this mess has become so ridiculous that any attempt to maintain suspense may as well be spit down that bowl next to the dental chair.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Novocaine, he would have paid . . .
Novocaine? Take a hearty dose first and maybe watching this loser will be less painful.
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