Identity

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The spring movie season finally has come up with some suspenseful, escapist fun: Identity. A clever combination of opposing sensibilities – Agatha Christie (Ten Little Indians) and Friday the 13thIdentity is the kind of B-movie that Hollywood can’t make enough of these days, and it’s a darned shame.

There are only a few quibbles with this scary, and gory, story about 10 "guests" who get stranded in a creepy motel on a dark and very stormy night in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes of their arrival, very violent, very deadly, things start happening. And they don’t stop. Trying his utmost to keep the calm amid the countdown of deaths is Ed (John Cusack), limousine driver for a fading celebrity (Rebecca DeMornay). Ed takes charge and jumps into seemingly uncharacteristic action after a bad accident on the road involving a couple and their young son.

The other doomed folks who wind up at the motel are a tough cop (Ray Liotta) who’s transporting a crazed-looking criminal (Jake Busey); a good-hearted prostitute trying to start a new life (Amanda Peet); and some squabbling young newlyweds (Clea DuVall and Will Lee Scott). To top things off, motel proprietor Larry (John Hawkes), is acting strangely, but no one seems to know why.

Director James Mangold (Cop Land, Kate & Leopold) moves things at a speedy, but not breakneck, pace, accentuating every twist in Michael Cooney’s engaging script. In playfully paying homage to thrillers (both good and bad) of days gone by — and adding one big surprise — the filmmakers have created something familiar, yet fresh. Striking a pleasing balance between plot machinations and characterization, Identity represents the rare case of a film that remains enjoyable despite the fact that the characters’ motivations ultimately aren’t of prime importance.

These people are pawns in a game, and it’s plain old fun to watch them go down. Movie fanatics, however, and sticklers for detail may be clued into the ending by paying specific attention to, simply, the film’s title. Others who try to figure out what the opening sequence (about a psychiatrist and his patient, a Death Row killer whose immediately pending execution is being reconsidered) has to do with the terrifying action at the seedy hotel also may figure out the film’s big secret.

Still, it’s always fun to see the appealing Cusack (Max, Being John Malkovich), who’s delightfully more serious and less cutesy here than he’s been in some of his earlier roles, and Liotta (Blow, A Rumor of Angels), who plays to type as the hot-headed enforcer. While Identity DVDs won’t be replacing anything on the Hitchcock shelf at the video store in the near future, the movie is certainly an undeniable diversion and a decent way to spend a couple of bloody fun hours.

– Leslie Katz

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