2001, Movie, R, 95 mins


In surer hands, this quirky mixture of DOUBLE INDEMNITY-style film noir and suburban black comedy à la AMERICAN BEAUTY might have worked. But just as writer-director David Atkins is no James M. Cain, neither is he Alan Ball; the mystery is terribly plotted and the satirical elements are limited and not very funny. The twist is that our hapless hero isn't a private eye or even an insurance investigator: He's a dentist, and the femme fatale who slinks into his office isn't missing a husband, she's suffering from a bad tooth. Dr. Frank Sangster (Steve Martin) runs a bustling, state-of-the-art practice in which everything runs according to a tight schedule, thanks largely to his hyper-meticulous hygienist and fiancée, Jean (Laura Dern). But despite his success, upright Frank secretly longs for a different kind of life; in other words, he's primed to commit the kind of peccadillo that will turn his mundane life inside-out. That peccadillo is Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham Carter, who it appears, hasn't changed her clothes or washed her hair since FIGHT CLUB), a saucy stranger with a toothache. Susan is scheduled for a root canal, but shows up for her appointment long after the office has closed for the day; by the time she leaves, Frank's fidelity to Jean is in pieces and his entire supply of narcotics is missing. Frank's attempts to track down Susan — whom he now realizes is scam artist with a taste for pharmaceuticals — and retrieve the drugs before the DEA finds out eventually lead Frank to Duane (Scott Caan), Susan's volatile and possibly psychotic brother. A contrite Susan claims Duane is the root of all her woes and wishes he'd just disappear, a dangerous thing to wish for in this kind of movie. Sure enough, Duane turns up dead in the foyer of Frank's house, his body covered with bite marks that perfectly match Frank's teeth. This is a typical wrong-man scenario in which it's clear to everyone but the police that Frank is being framed for a crime he didn't commit, but Atkins is too concerned with his central metaphor — he runs the whole tooth decay/moral rot equation right into the ground — and gratuitous, flashy touches to care about the plot details. There's an awkward scene early on that fairly gives the entire game away to anyone who's paying attention, and the denouement is as gruesome as it is unacceptable. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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