'As I was going up the stairs
I met a man who wasn't there
I met that man again today
Gee I wish he would go away' Ogden Nash
Ten strangers converge in a shabby Nevada motel when severe rainstorms flood roads and soon, one by one, begin to die. A mysterious pattern begins to build and the survivors look inward, trying to uncover the shared components of their "Identity."
Writer Michael Cooney ("Jack Frost") uses the single location thriller format of "Ten Little Indians" to pay homage to "Psycho" with a twist on that film's psychiatric underpinnings while director James Mangold ("Heavy," "Kate & Leopold") keeps the action barreling forward, roving about the limited confines of a desolate motel with flair. Cooney's double twist concept isn't fully conceptualized, though. An early scene shows a murderer (Pruitt Taylor Vince, "Heavy") being transported under the care of his psychiatrist (Alfred Molina, "Chocolat"), undercutting the presence of a second killer (Jake Busey, "Tomcats") under the jurisdiction of a cop (Ray Liotta, "Narc") at the motel. "Identity's" second twist lacks dramatic punch and is more fun to reflect upon in retrospect that it is to experience.
In an ultimately unnecessary bit of nonetheless entertaining tomfoolery, six of the ten strangers suffer a chain reaction which links them together. Paris (Amanda Peet, "Igby Goes Down") is a prostitute running from Vegas with stolen cash in a convertible. The wind whips open her luggage and a stiletto-heeled shoe is blown onto the highway,
where it is run over by the York family, puncturing a tire. George (John C. McGinley, "Any Given Sunday") is shielded from the rain as he fixes the tire by his wife Alice (Leila Kenzle), who wanders to reassure their young son Timmy (Bret Loehr) by holding out her palm to his on the car window and is hit by a limo being driven by Ed (John Cusack) for his demanding actress client Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay).
The group makes its way to a motel with the severely injured Alice, clearly surprising motel owner Larry (John Hawkes, "The Perfect Storm"). Larry is immediately hostile to Paris, who he pegs as a prostitute, while Ed works to keep the peace. The arrival of Office Rhodes (Liotta) with a malfunctioning radio and convict does little to help the situation so Ed takes off to try and get help for Alice. He only succeeds in wrecking another car and flags down the 9th and 10th strangers, newlyweds Ginny (Clea Duvall, "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing") and Lou (William Lee Scott, "Pearl Harbor"), for a ride back to the motel. As the group begins to settle down, Ed wanders about and discovers the first victim, his obnoxious employer, in the motel laundry followed quickly by the discovery that Robert Maine (Busey) has escaped.
While the actors have fun (Cusack, Liotta and Peet are the strongest) and Mangold makes hay with cinematographer Phedon Papamichael ("Moonlight Mile") on his effective studio set (production design by Mark Friedberg, "Kate & Leopold"), "Identity" frustrates by not following through on its promise. Cooney's script has some intriguing ideas (characters seem to be paired in ying/yang couples, such as the good cop/bad cop of Cusack and Liotta) and puzzles to ponder (that first victim wasn't really the first), but for all its suspense its revelations lack sizzle. Still, "Identity" has an angle as unique as its title implies even if its imprint lacks initial definition.
It is a dark and stormy night as ten disparate people converge on an isolated, nearly abandoned motel as torrential rain and rising floodwaters trap them all without phone or radio contact to the outside world. When, one by one, the group of adventurers is being murdered by some evil that has descended upon them, it is up to the survivors to find and stop the killer in "Identity."
This slick production under the helm of James Mangold is Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" mixed with Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." When a troubled family, the Yorks, pull off the road because of car problems, a terrible accident occurs as the mother mistakenly steps into the road and onto the hood of a speeding limo being driven by Ed (John Cusack). He was trying to get his passenger, a moody, nasty prima Dona actress (Rebecca DeMornay) to her destination. Now, he is stuck with her, the badly battered woman, her husband (John C. McGinely) and their sensitive son Timmy (Bret Loehr).
As this group descends upon the Motel, run by Larry (John Hawkes), a sleazy little guy, others are also forced to seek shelter there. Officer Rhodes (Ray Liotta) is transporting a convict (Gary Busey). Ex-call girl Paris (Amanda Peet), is trying to get to Florida to change her life. A pair of unhappy newly weds (Clea Duvall and William Lee Scott) is trying to get home after their shotgun Vegas wedding. One by one they start to fall victim to an unseen killer in their midst.
The original screenplay by Michael Cooney is derivative but has a lot of energy as inventive ways are found to keep the body count climbing. There are all the requisite twists and turns as one suspect after another are trotted out for the viewer to examine. (I did note, early in the film, who the killer is but there are enough maggufins along the way to make you change your mind several times.
The actors are not given much to do except, for most, to be fodder for the murderer, whoever it is. Cusack, as Ed, is the everyman character that anchors the story with his repeated proclamations that he used to be a cop as they try to find the killer. Ray Liotta as corrections officer Rhodes is obviously hiding something as he transports his prisoner, Busey. The troubled York family is having problems and their kid is sinister. Amanda Peet, an ex-call girl, is leaving one life and hopes to make a better on growing oranges in Florida. Clea Duvall and William Lee Scott form a pair of obviously unhappy people. Rebecca DeMornay as the bitchy actress Caroline Suzanne is so selfish you root for her to be one of the first to get it. John Hawkes is shifty and up to something (we know) as Larry the Motel guy.
Tech values are up there with production designer Mark Fieldberg creating an eerie world in the Motel. The locale and the omnipresent and oppressive rain are almost characters in the play. The dark, moody photography by Phedon Papamichael is punctuated, usually at the appropriate, scary time, with flashes of lightning and the roll of thunder. James Mangold ties it all together efficiently and with style.
There is nothing new to "Identity" but it works as a "10 Little Indians" clone. I give it a B-.
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