Side Effects and Identity Thief

Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects is a grippingly
“Hitchcockian” movie, but not in the manner of, say, Brian De
Palma, who blithely appropriated the master’s narrative elements
and visual techniques for ’80s films like Dressed to Kill
and Body Double. Soderbergh’s picture is something else, a
bracingly lurid tale of a man trapped in a thickening web of
circumstance—the sort of story that Hitchcock might well have
wanted to tell himself. In the late director’s absence, Soderbergh,
who over the course of 24 years has demonstrated a rare facility in
a wide array of genres, proves to be just the man for the job.Jude Law, in a tightly contained performance, is Dr. Jonathan
Banks, a transplanted English psychiatrist with a thriving
Manhattan practice, a happy marriage, all the emblems of
professional success. But his world begins to crumble after he
takes on the case of a young woman named Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara,
freshly inventive yet again), who has just driven her car into a
wall in an apparent suicide attempt. Emily has a brief history of
clinical depression, triggered by the arrest of her wealthy
husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), for insider stock trading. She
was previously treated for her condition by a Connecticut shrink,
Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). After Martin’s
imprisonment, Emily tells Banks, “It got very hard to imagine a
future—and that’s depression, right?”Banks, a great believer in psychopharmacology, begins treating
Emily with a relatively new antidepressant called Ablixa. Then
Martin is released from prison. He comes home one day and finds
Emily in the kitchen chopping vegetables with a strange intensity;
she turns to her husband with knife in hand and stabs him to death.
Afterward, she tells police she remembers nothing of this, that she
must have been sleepwalking—which turns out to be a side effect of
Ablixa.Tried for murder, Emily is judged to be not guilty by reason of
insanity, and is consigned to a mental hospital. But Banks has also
been a person of interest in the case. (He’s just a little bit
dodgy, having contracted in the past with big drug companies to
take part in testing new meds.) There’s an ethics investigation,
and soon the New York Post is calling him the “Pill Killer.” Banks’
life is collapsing all around him. Then he determines to fight
back—to get to the bottom of whatever it is that’s going on.This is the kind of movie about which the less is said, the
better. Soderbergh proves to be a virtuoso at tightening the screws
of suspicion and perversity. (He’s working from a script by Scott
Z. Burns, with whom he also collaborated on Contagion and
The Informant!) He unveils the movie’s many revelations at
a perfect pace, and finesses the inevitable implausibilities of the
thriller genre with great skill. The effect is engrossing from
beginning to end.Soderbergh says this is his last movie; he’s determined to
retire and devote his time to painting, among other things. Will
this prove to be just another showbiz fake-out? Let’s hope
so. Identity ThiefThe wonderful Melissa McCarthy’s very heavy build will probably
always have to be a substantial facet of the characters she
portrays—there’s no way to ignore it. But in the 2011
Bridesmaids, her overweight Megan was a woman who refused
to allow her girth to interfere with a determination to enjoy life
on her own high-spirited terms. Unfortunately, in the new
Identity Thief, McCarthy is basically used as a walking
fat joke, a pathetic loser with no hope of ever surmounting her
size. She’s the butt of endless unpleasant gibes, and the movie’s
stretch for happy-happy at the end can’t wash away the sour taste
of all that’s come
           Directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) and scripted
by Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II), the picture gives
us McCarthy as a slobby con-woman named Beth, who specializes in
identity theft—acquiring the credit-card information of faraway
dupes to finance a lifestyle of heavy boozing and unfortunate
sartorial choices. Her latest victim is Sandy Patterson (Jason
Bateman), an amiable Denver account executive with—for Beth’s
purposes — a perfect unisex name. When Sandy suddenly finds his
credit card confiscated after attempting to charge some gas, and is
then besieged by a herd of unknown creditors demanding payment for
charges he never made, he’s baffled. Then, when local cops tell him
the only way to straighten things out is to find whoever it is
that’s taken over his identity and bring that person back to
Denver, he reluctantly sets out for the Florida town to which all
signs point—the town that Beth, of course, calls home.When Sandy catches up with Beth—a woman with no principles but a
wicked inclination toward throat-punching—he determines to haul her
back to Denver by car, and make her face the consequences of her
criminality. Along the way we’re treated to much whining and
waddling around and belly-flopping by McCarthy, and all the usual
stoic reaction shots that are a Bateman trademark. Before long,
Sandy and Beth are being pursued by an ornery skip-tracer (Robert
Patrick) and a pair of drug-gang enforcers (improbably beautiful
Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I.—who deserves bigger and better
roles). When Sandy and Beth reluctantly begin to bond, we fear the
worst sort of goopy plot twist, which soon enough arrives.McCarthy can’t help but be funny—she’s a winning comic actress.
But the consistently unflattering light in which she’s presented
here isn’t a lot of fun. Bateman has an effective straight-faced
charm, and Eric Stonestreet, as a sizeable barroom lothario who
develops the hots for Beth, brings a welcome jovial innocence to
the proceedings (before being buried in a bare-ass sex scene you’re
unlikely to forget, try as you might).The movie plays out like an over-budgeted sitcom. There are some
genuine laughs, and I can see the film passing for enjoyable among
some viewers. Which is fine. Afraid I’m not among them,


Side Effects and Identity Thief

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