Identity

2003, Movie, R, 87 mins

Review

IDENTITY
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Ten strangers converge in an isolated desert motel. A storm is raging, the roads are flooded, the landlines are down and the single cell phone is out of juice. And a diabolical killer is stalking and killing them, one by one. But the big question isn't who will survive — it's who they are. George York (John C. McGinley) is on a trip with his wife Alice (Leila Kenzle) and little boy (Bret Loehr) when they get a flat and stop by the roadside to fix it. Distracted by the spoiled, over-the-hill B-movie actress (Rebecca DeMornay) he's ferrying back to Los Angeles, limo driver Ed (John Cusack) mows Alice down. Ed offers to drive them to a hospital, but the roads are washed out and everyone's forced to take refuge at a rundown, no-name motel along with several other guests. Paris (Amanda Peet) is a hooker looking for a new start, bickering newlyweds Ginny and Lou (Clea DuVall, William Lee Scott) are already beginning to think their spur-of-the-moment Las Vegas wedding was a mistake, and Officer Rhodes (Ray Liotta) runs out of gas while transporting a grinning multiple murderer (Jake Busey). Meanwhile, a handful of legal professionals have gathered elsewhere for a highly irregular midnight sanity hearing. Convicted serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is scheduled for execution in less than 24 hours, but his lawyer has uncovered suppressed evidence that supports an insanity plea; his doctor (Alfred Molina) has prepared an impassioned appeal. The two stories dovetail in a big fat twist that, depending on how you feel about such things, either takes the story to a new level or invalidates everything that precedes it and turns the rest of the movie into a giant-sized "so what?" A supremely self-conscious reworking of Agatha Christie's pioneering body-count mystery Ten Little Indians, dressed up with '80s slasher-movie gore and a dash of the Twilight Zone, this stylish exercise in genre rejiggering is almost pedantically clever. Clues to the coming twist are carefully incorporated into the story in exactly the same way the killer's signature room keys, which count down the corpses, are hidden at each murder scene: tucked away in plain sight. You can't accuse screenwriter Michael Cooney or director James Mangold of cheating: From the case-file montage shown under the opening credits to the spooky bit of childhood verse ("As I was walking up the stair/I met a man who wasn't there...") repeated at key intervals, the puzzle pieces are all there. But when you put them all together, the result is a bit of a gyp — neat but utterly forgettable. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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