ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 1, 2003
You know how it feels when you’re driving on the highway at night and, just when it seems like it couldn’t rain any harder, a truck hauling a semitrailer whips by, momentarily blinding you with its spray? There’s that split second before the wipers do their job when you just hope to hell there’s nothing—like a stalled car, perhaps—in your direct path.
Well, the makers of the new fright flick Identity do a decent job early on of squeezing the fear quotient out of the rainstorm-plus-dark-highway-equals-carnage formula that most folks can relate to. In fact, the constantly raging storm—which causes 10 travellers to seek shelter at a desolate motel, where they begin dying one by one—is the only believable aspect of the show. As soon as the actors open their mouths, this so-called thriller goes down the tubes like so much spring runoff, and that’s mostly thanks to hack screenwriter Michael Cooney.
He’s the same guy who penned the execrable reincarnated-snowman flick, Jack Frost. Not to mention the unmentionable Jack Frost 2.
To quickly establish the unlikely premise that the fates of all these characters are somehow intertwined, a high-heeled shoe that Amanda Peet’s harried hooker accidentally dumps on a Nevada highway winds up disabling a van driven by a nerdy stepdad (John C. McGinley of TV’s Scrubs). As he’s trying to change a blown tire in the pouring rain, his umbrella-holding wife (Leila Kenzle of White Oleander) gets sentimentally distracted by her young son and is smucked by a limo driven by ex-cop Ed (John Cusack), who’s transporting bitchy has-been actor Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay) to L.A.
Suzanne is such a detestable witch that she doesn’t even want to stop and help the injured woman, but the heroic Ed takes control and gets everybody to the motel, which is run by a nervous clerk (The Perfect Storm’s John Hawkes) with a grudge against “sluts”. Then he commandeers a car containing a pair of dysfunctional newlyweds (William Lee Scott and But I’m a Cheerleader’s Clea DuVall), so we get to hear them curse and whine until they’re respectively stabbed to death/blown up.
Meanwhile, an intense cop named Rhodes (Ray Liotta, doing Ray Liotta) shows up at the motel with a prisoner, convicted murderer Robert Maine (Jake Busey, doing his freaky dad, Gary). The toothy psycho gets handcuffed to a toilet and left alone, so it’s no big surprise when he quickly escapes and dead bodies—or parts of them—start showing up around the place.
But then suspicion falls on the motel manager. Then it looks like the cop might be the killer. Or maybe it’s the ex-cop. The hunt for more red herrings eventually shifts away from the motel to the shattered mind of a condemned serial-killer with multiple-personality disorder (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who goes before a cantankerous judge for a last-minute clemency hearing. Vince’s performance will be best remembered as a valiant bid to win the Academy Award for best side-to-side eyeball movement.
My eyeballs were doing some serious rolling of their own at the general ineptitude of this failed mating of Friday the 13th and Ten Little Indians. And they could scarcely believe the film’s idiotic “twist” ending. As someone who’s known for his attachment to quality movies, Cusack has had trouble identifying killer scripts lately; for every Being John Malkovich and High Fidelity there’s an America’s Sweethearts and a Pushing Tin. He should can both his agent and his manager for allowing this dreck to further soil his résumé.