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The shadow of last year's brilliant Adaptation once again shades another self-satisfied and disappointing thriller apparently penned by Donald Kaufman. Identity starts with a promising premise and brilliant cast but ends up leaving a mistreated audience out in the rain, walking home like a committed virgin on prom night. If you know someone who ever that tells you that Identity was a good film you should punch that person in the face and tell him that I said he is an uneducated pretentious asshole.

Identity starts with a last minute gambit to save a murderer from Old Sparky. It shifts to a Nevada hotel where a gaggle of intriguing characters pour in from the rain and various odd accidents of coincidence. Each character comes with a stereotype and a secret; as both components pile up, so does the intrigue. To name a few: there's a limo driver who packs a gun and an uncanny sense of duty (John Cusack), a cop with a wound and a prisoner (Ray Liotta), a hooker with a heart of gold and a suitcase full of cash (Amanda Peet), and a fading star with a double D ego and an even bigger rack (Rebecca De Mornay).

As the motley crew settles into the flop house, personalities clash and bodies start surfacing. Suspects are plentiful and most of the stings are successful, but just when we start enjoying the game of Ten Little Indians, the script changes the rules to something that makes a little less sense than playing Candyland on a Chutes and Ladders board.

There's only a slight difference between a magic trick and a rip-off. One is for the enjoyment of the audience, the other is for the profit of the performer and never the twain shall meet. Identity rips the audience off with all the style of a smash and grab job. Sure, it looks cool when the truck hits the front doors but then it's all grasping for whatever one can get away with.

The hard part of this review is not giving away too much, so those masochists who ignore this desperate warning and inflict this infuriating tease on themselves can know the pain that is the "give me a break" groan that comes with the second visit to the framing device. Like an M. Night Shamble-along picture with even less skill behind the keyboard, Identity is a parlor trick that starts with a good little slight of hand and changes gears into unwarned, unlubed sodomy.

Lest one thinks it was all for naught, the cast is wonderful. Cusack proves he'd be better off doing bad action pictures than inflicting another America's Sweethearts on us, and Amanda Peet shows us that she is at least a little bit better than Sandra Bullock.

John C. McGinley once again proves himself one of the least appreciated supporting actors. Part of me fears him getting that great break through role like Spacey's Verbal Kint and then we'll be subjected to a litany of cloying Oscar bait and I'll have to grouse about how I used to love his performances.

The visuals and direction are pretty solid but director James Mangold should be beaten in the town square for even finishing reading this script. Screenwriter/incubus Michael Cooney has shown some fun tendencies in the past with the classic Jack Frost (the good one, not the creepy dead Michael Keaton picture), but with this script he reminds us that nothing will help a writer break into the mainstream like a high concept crap parade that makes the suits feel like they are producing something on par with Persona when they are really just making a bad festival troller with a big budget and cast.

If I haven't made myself clear enough, DO NOT SEE THIS PICTURE. It just yanks your chain for an hour or so. If I want my chain yanked I'll go to the girlie bar where all the cards are on the table and the tease is part of the game. When I go to the pictures I want satisfaction, not blue balls and a headache.

What's It Worth?: $1.50

Jordan Rosa

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