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'Identity' is a riddle wrapped in a mystery ...

Friday, April 25, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The thriller "Identity" is like a funhouse that screams at you, "Look here!" and then, "No, over there!" and still again, "Down below!"


RATING: R for strong violence, language.

STARRING: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet

DIRECTOR: James Mangold


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It's so busy trying to trick you that its usually reliable cast, which includes John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet and Pruitt Taylor Vince, is reduced to serving as walking, talking distractions. Maybe I wasn't smart enough to put all the pieces together or maybe the Michael Cooney screenplay is just too preoccupied with being so darn clever that it loses sight of the audience. Remember us?

The movie opens with news that a diary belonging to a convicted murderer, 24 hours from execution, has surfaced and could prove he was insane at the time of the crimes. The action then shifts to the quintessential dark and stormy night and a place that looks as remote and forlorn as the Bates Motel.

It's there that 10 strangers find themselves marooned. Rain has washed out the roads and phone service, so they're forced to stay put, even when their exile begins to turn into a grisly game of "And then there were none."

The assembled travelers include: a limo driver transporting a self-centered actress; an unconscious woman who has been hit by a car, her young son and her second husband; a prostitute; a young couple who seem estranged; and a guard transporting a prisoner.

It doesn't take long for the body count to start nearing double digits, as the bloody action at the motel is interspersed with the hearing about the convicted killer. The movie, from director James Mangold ("Girl, Interrupted," "Cop Land" and "Heavy"), builds to a big surprise, which leads to another surprise and then another.

Moviegoers love shocking revelations, but they also want enough clues so they can figure out what's ahead. That is where "Identity" falls down, in addition to one too many hysterical, angry confrontations sprinkled amid the gruesome deaths.

To pinpoint my problems with the story would be to give the ending away. So, in the end, let's just say "Identity" proves quite creative. Coherent? Not always.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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