Identity


'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."


Laura's Review: B-

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.