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With: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Clea DuVall, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Jake Busey, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rebecca DeMornay
Written by: Michael Cooney
Directed by: James Mangold
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/25/2003

Identity (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mr. Personality

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mystery fans often prefer one of two kinds of stories: the kind you canfigure out and the kind you can't. In Arthur Conan Doyle's SherlockHolmes stories, for example, the point is to follow the masterdetective as he works. The clues are not available to the reader, andhence we can't solve the mystery.

But in, say, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, an astute reader (or viewer) can collect clues and eventually pinpoint the murderer. The new film Identity presents a crafty combination of both.

It's a dark and stormy night, and a group of people on a lonely stretch of highway find that they can't go any further due to flooding.

A chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack) driving a movie actress (Rebecca DeMornay) accidentally runs down a mother (Leila Kenzle) as her husband (John C. McGinley) replaces a flat tire.

They gather at a roadside motel, not dissimilar from Norman Bates' domain. More people begin turning up: a young married couple (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott), a high-priced prostitute (Amanda Peet) and a cop, Rhodes (Ray Liotta) transporting a killer (Jake Busey). The slacker, Larry (John Hawkes), running the hotel gamely checks them all in, but there will be no rest tonight.

It seems a killer is on the loose. Ed, a retired cop, and Rhodes take charge, but they can't quite keep up with the mysterious killer, who leaves room keys near his corpses, counting down from ten. But as more dead bodies and clues pile up, the clues become more and more vague and even begin to veer into the supernatural.

Never fear; everything becomes clear, and some viewers might be able to deduce who the killer is. But the real reason behind the killings is one of those Sherlock Holmes mysteries that no one will see coming. It has a little to do with Alfred Molina, who plays a psychologist, and a secret, midnight gathering of legal minds. All the clues are there, and when you look back the entire picture comes together.

Written by Michael Cooney (Jack Frost) and directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted, Kate & Leopold) the film is tightly and cleverly constructed -- both in the way that it follows the And Then There Were None motif and in the way it does not drop the ball in the final minutes, as many horror films do (even last year's above-average Below suffered from a poor ending).

Sure, it never really rises to comparison with Hitchcock; its thrills and scares almost always consist of the one-second jump/shock variety. And when it does manage to stretch out a scare, it does so using the anticipation of a one-second jump/shock.

But this is no second-rate thriller; you can tell just by the first-rate cast. John Cusack plays arguably his first grown-up role, a tired, half-beaten spirit looking for a little peace but inexplicably drawn to violence. Liotta, Peet, DuVall and Molina live up to their sterling reputations, and Jake Busey clocks in with another great, leering psychopath. But most surprising is Rebecca DeMornay, who disappears inside her spoiled redheaded. ("Didn't you used to be that actress?" one character asks her.)

Indeed, everything falls together in Identity with such a satisfying click that I'm tempted to claim it as the most satisfying and accomplished thriller in recent memory.

DVD Details: Columbia TriStar's 2003 DVD comes with an option to watch the "branched" version of the film, with an alternate ending and an additional scene. It also includes a director's commentary track, deleted scenes (with optional commentary), storyboard comparisons, the Starz! special, filmographies and the theatrical trailer. And, yes, that's me quoted on the back of the box.

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