I’m not a big fan of “twist” movies, you know, movies that serve no purpose except to direct you in one direction then to pull the rug from under you and yell “Ah HA! Betcha didn’t see that coming!” It’s even worse when you do see it coming. Thus comes the true test for movies like this: do they work beyond the what’s-gonna-happen-next? curiosity factor? This is where M. Night Shyamalan’s pictures transcend the genre. Films like The Sixth Sense or Signs are not about cheap thrills. Their final twists are integral elements of complex, thought-provoking storylines. It doesn’t matter if you see them coming because each scene on its own is involving. It’s the characters and the themes explored that make these films so interesting, not a few BOO! moments.
So what about “Identity”? Well, between the trailer, the opening credits sequence and the title itself, I had it pretty much figured out, but it still managed to sort of entertain me. Right away I liked the style and pace James Mangold established. The various characters are quickly introduced and already they’re being drawn together. Edward (John Cusack) is driving a washed out actress (Rebecca De Mornay) back to L.A. through a wicked rainstorm and they hit a woman (Leila Kenzle) who’s watching her husband (John C. McGingley) change a flat tire, to the great dismay of their near-autistic son (Brett Loehr). Edward takes everyone to a nearby motel to regroup and call for help, only to realise that the phone lines are down and all the roads are flooded. They’re stranded there, as are the manager (John Hawkes), a young couple (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott), a call girl (Amanda Peet) and a cop (Ray Liotta) transferring a dangerous convict (Jake Busey)…
Technically, the film delivers. It looks good and it sounds even better; it truly creates an ominous atmosphere through light, shadows and relentless rain. The characters are one-dimensional, but inspired casting manages to make them engaging enough. John Cusack is always fun to watch, as is Ray Liotta chewing scenery and Amanda Peet as a hooker with an attitude. Even more enjoyable is the presence of Jake Busey as, what else, a nut (this brought me back to 1997, when every other film featured Busey as some nutcase) and of John Hawkes as the neurotic motel manager (you might remember Hawkes as the owner of Benny’s World of Liquor in the opening of From Dusk Till Dawn).
The premise is ripped right out of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”, but with a slasher movie spin. This is where the film’s potential is wasted. I thought the set up was intriguing and I was disappointed when people started dying one after another in pure cheapie exploitation flick fashion. A lot of noise, shaky shots, a gush of blood. Have another character stupidly wander away from the others and repeat. Then we learn that the motel was built on an old Indian burial ground and… Well I’m not gonna spoil the big twist (even though chances are you’ll see it coming from the first five minutes as I did), but it’s beyond stupid and no, it doesn’t help how we have to listen to a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) trying to explain the whole nonsense. Oh, that’s just like at the end of Psycho, but I’m not a big fan of that film either.
“Identity” turns out to be preposterous shlock, more like a “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequel than a Shyamalan flick, but the colorful performances and the general look and feel of the movie almost make up for the hollow scares and the retarded twist ending. Almost.