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Starring John Cusack and Ray Liotta
Screenplay by Michael Cooney
Directed by James Mangold

IN SHORT: Buy popcorn. Lots of it. [Rated R for strong violence and language. 87 minutes]

When a film proposes to thrill with a gimmick that is preposterous going on ridiculous in its execution, then all you can do it sit back and let it play out in all its glorious nonsense. That's "nonsense" in a good way, for Identity is a flat out enjoyable thriller, whose gore is far short of slice 'n' dice but visually interesting enough to keep us happy. More important, it is yet another in a long line of fine performances by star John Cusack who, time and time again, has shown that he's got better chops than ninety percent of the "stars" who get all the big time press. We can count on the fingers of one hand the stars whose name alone would get us to lay down the green without any knowledge of or recommendation about the film they're headlining. We now officially add Cusack to that short list

Identity is a thriller that has all the metaphorical value of a worn pair of shoes. Familiar and comfortable, enjoyable to sit for. Then again, we have a pair of decades on the younger adults in our screening, all of whom were raving about the film. They have reason to: it's a rare film that has such a large principal cast and provides solid background stories and action for all of 'em. Props to screenwriter Michael Cooney for some fine work. He lays out two stories that play out simultaneously, both set somewhere in what we think is Nevada.

In one part of the State, a serial murderer named Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is twenty four hours from execution. A new legal team has just intruded into his case, which makes the judge and district attorneys, shall we say, unhappy. A psychiatric Doctor (Alfred Molina) has less than a day to determine Rivers' fitness to die. In another, isolated town, a deluge of a rainstorm cuts off all access to the outside world. Here, a hardy group of individuals hole up in an out of the way motel, all seeking shelter from the storm.

Director James Mangold's visual style is to let a portion of the story play out and then freeze the image on screen. This is the cue to jump, usually backwards in time and to a different location, to introduce another person or object that will impact the story down the line. It's cute the first half dozen times but it gets wearisome, only to be offset by those great individual stories and characters that stop at the motel. In short order Larry, the motel's night manager (John Hawkes) meets a distraught George York (John C. McGinley) whose wife (Leila Kenzle) was hit by a passing car. Meekly bringing up dad's rear is his stepson, Tim (Bret Lohr). It should be of no surprise, then, that the car responsible for the disaster shows up in short order. It contains a once famous movie star named Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay) -- she now throwing hissy fits on B minus-movies sets -- and her chauffeur, Ed (Cusack).

The rooms fill in short order with a cop (Ray Liotta, click for StarTalk) who is transporting a serial killer Robert Maine (Jake Busey); a former prostitute named Paris (Amanda Peet) who is headed for Florida to start a new life growing oranges; a pair of newlyweds up from Vegas, Ginny (Clea DuVall) and Lou (William Lee Scott) -- she's hysterical most of the time and a liar to boot. He's a guy who is simple and upstanding and doing the right thing. The storm has taken out all the roads and the phone lines and most of the phone cels, so when the actress' cel bleeps, she heads out into the maelstrom to try to find a good signal. When her body is found, it is accompanied by a key to Room Ten of the motel. A second victim is found, with a key to Room Nine. The killer is obviously the serial killer, who escaped early on of course, until he turns up dead very early on. As the list of possible suspects shrinks dramatically, Liotta and Cusack (his character is an ex-cop, too) try to figure out exactly what is going on. When the parallel stories come together and the gimmick is revealed, the edge is taken off what killings are left. Still, with fingers covered in golden glop searching out the last popcorn fragments in the bag, Identity was a most enjoyable popcorn flick to sit for. That, after all, is what you pay your money for.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Identity, he would have paid . . .


Highly Recommended.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.