| May 2, 2003

In Identity, a series of coincidences, flooded roads, and plain bad luck strands a group of strangers–a cop and the prisoner he’s transporting, a hooker, a family of three, an actress and her driver, a young married couple–at a ramshackle motel in the middle of nowhere. When people start dying (as people inevitably do in movies such as these), there’s enough suspicion to go around and precious little trust. As the prisoner in question was being transported to an eleventh-hour hearing to determine a possible stay of execution by reason of insanity, you can probably understand why nobody’s interpreting the deaths as unusually bloody accidents. However, as the body count increases, it becomes clear that the most obvious suspect isn’t necessarily the guilty party.
Identity is at its best when its using familiar elements well. Later, when it tries to break new ground, it does so at a heavy price. Creepy old motels are nothing new, certainly, but the setting and the gloomy weather come together nicely. The eternal rain becomes more than just an excuse to keep the characters cooped up in the middle of nowhere; it oppresses them in an almost tangible way. Their cars and cell-phones can’t save them now.
Although some members of the ensemble outshone the others, this was a good cast to have together. John Cusack is just too damn interesting to stop watching, as always. Ray Liotta (to whom I’m still grateful for his performance in Narc) commands attention with that promise of impending violence that so many of his characters seem to harbor. Amanda Peet did an okay job, but I would have rather seen Clea Duvall (wasted again, sadly) in her role–it would have given the latter something to do to possible wash away the stain of Ghosts of Mars. Alfred Molina was scandalously underutilized, but I’d rather get a few minutes of him than none at all. Jake Busey was a bit of an odd choice as the convict, putting out too much of the visual “bleach-blond surfer” vibe to buy him as a serial killer. I still haven’t forgiven him for Shasta McNasty.
James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted) does a fine job of directing this, which atones for his having unleashed the horror that is Kate & Leopold. The same goes for Michael Cooney and his screenplay. Not too bad for a guy whose previous writing credits included Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman!
I can’t go into the specifics of the plot twist, but suffice it to say that I don’t think the film profited from it any. It was somewhat unexpected, true enough, but it was only accomplished at sacrificing character relationships that kept me hooked into the events that were unfolding. Identity was doing a good enough job of entertaining me with the tried-and-true 10 Little Indians style of plot to warrant chucking it all away for novelty’s sake. Although the film ends without following that particular thread to its conclusion, if one takes a moment to do so, they’ll see that the trade-off was futile.
Please, e-mail me at once you’ve seen Identity and let me know what you think. I’m itching to talk to folks about it, but not at the expense of spilling the beans with plot spoilers.

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