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Identity (R)
Sony Pictures
Official Site
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Cathy Konrad
Written by: Michael Cooney
Cast: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Rebecca DeMornay, John C. McGinley, Jake Busey, Clea DuVall, Pruitt Taylor Vince, William Lee Scott, Leila Kenzle

Rating: out of 5

They all have the same birthday. “Why?” you might ask. “I need to know!!” Well, actually, you don’t. Identity makes for one hell of a suspenseful trailer; there’s no two ways about that. But the actual film suffers by comparison.

A flood and power outage trap 10 strangers in a hotel for the night. Who they are and how they got there hardly matters; the characters are all stock types from different walks of life who unwillingly come together to deal with a difficult situation. Of course, so were those seven brave souls who fatefully set sail on the S.S. Minnow so many years ago. But the major difference between Identity and “Gilligan’s Island” is that in the former people quickly start turning up dead. Spookifying matters greatly is the fact that a hotel key is left on or near each corpse. The first key does not have the number of the victim’s room, but the number 10; subsequent keys count down from there. As the guests try to protect themselves and identify the killer, retired cop Ed (Cusack) quickly becomes the leader of the group, which includes hooker with a heart of gold Paris (Peet), neurotic family man George (McGinley), and Larry, the shifty hotel clerk (Hawkes). Rhodes (Liotta), an actual, current police officer, is miffed at Ed’s authority, but has his hands full keeping tabs on the convicted murderer (chip off the old block Busey) he is charged with transporting.

While some of the deaths seem so improbable as to suggest coincidence or accident, the mounting body count leads the guests to believe that someone is murdering them. What is good about Identity is that, for most of the film, the audience is never quite sure if the killer is a normal red-blooded American axe-murderer type, or something much more eerie and supernatural. This device cranks up what minimal scares the movie offers, and makes the killer’s identity far from obvious. As a horror movie, Identity is passable but mediocre. It offers some moments of genuine suspense, but not that many.

But as a psychological thriller, Identity is not even that good. The film’s central conceit in this category is the hint that perhaps our heroes were not randomly brought together, but that instead the whole evening was masterminded by some evil genius. This motif, so prominent in the trailer, receives minimal screen time, and really is not that central at all. The requisite “twist” near the end, while radical in its implications for the story, feels neither new nor interesting.

Identity is lackluster but not terrible; interesting enough but not memorable. The preview, on the other hand, is a masterpiece, and it’s free.

—Mike O’Connor



hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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