142 – Identity

On the surface, Identity seems like a cheap knockoff of an Agatha Christie paperback. You know the type. Several disparate types are stranded on an island or in an old mansion or a broken-down hotel, and it’s raining cats and dogs outside, and wouldn’t you know it, but they’re being picked off, one by one. But beyond the obvious setup, this isn’t anything like And Then There Were None or its myriad imitations. This has a few twists, including an outstanding one right near the end.

Several people wind up at a ramshackle motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s pouring rain. The road’s been flooded both ways, so no one can get out. Among the stranded are a limo driver (John Cusack) and his employer-actress (Rebecca DeMornay), an irascible cop (Ray Liotta) and the convict he’s chaperoning (Jake Busey), a prostitute (Amanda Peet), a newlywed couple, and a man (John C. McGinley) and his family, complete with a mute son.

Pretty disparate, all right. But trouble’s afoot from the get-go, as Cusack, blinded by the torrential rain, runs over McGinley’s wife, causing severe injuries. As the woman slips in and out of consciousness, Cusack must rush to the hospital to get an ambulance (phone’s out, of course, and she can’t be moved). But then it’s flooded, see, and… well, everyone winds up back at the motel.

Sometimes thrillers explain themselves a bit too well – and too often – and the viewer has too much of an idea what’s coming. Telegraphing what’s to happen to a character is one of the biggest flaws of most thrillers, and if the viewer stops and thinks about the movie, the movie’s sunk. Once thought enters the viewers mind, the holes in the plot are as familiar as Swiss cheese.

But the plot in Identity holds up very well, thanks in no small part to a great cast. Normally, in emsemble pieces like this the cast is comprised of once-great or once-pretty-good actors, people you’ve heard of but not lately. But Identity’s cast is peppered with names familiar for their recent talents, and not their tabloid prowess. For instance, what’s Cusack doing here? Isn’t he slumming? Yes….. and no. It’s a murder thriller, but he elevates the movie far beyond its rudimentary whodunit origins.

Cusack’s great – I’ve yet to see him be awful – but he’s not the only one with a bravura performance. Liotta’s turn as the cop is gritty (he’s no stranger to the role, playing a similar one in Unlawful Entry) and ultimately believable, and McGinley’s a lot better than the underwritten role he was handed. Also shining is Peet as the hooker – I’ve never really liked her, but she did a good job with a good role.

And the atmosphere is wonderful! It felt like it was raining in my apartment. I jumped when they jumped, and I cringed when they cringed. That’s good camerawork.

The good aspects are the ending, the ending, the acting, the ending, and the atmosphere; the bad aspect is the middle stuff, as a lot of the movie is slasherific.

But the ending is excellent, in case I forgot to mention it. The only thing I will tell you is that the standard “everyone dies” mantra begun by some guy named Shakespeare or something doesn’t hold true here.

Identity: ***

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