Grade: B
Year: 2003
Director: James Mangold
Writer: Michael Cooney
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Rated: R
By Scott Spicciati

The setup of "Identity" is exciting. A horrendous storm floods the highways and forces ten travelers to the only place in town where they can seek shelter, a run-down motel out in the middle of the Nevada desert. The rain never stops, and the continuous lightning strikes suggest no one is leaving anytime soon. I hope I don't need to mention that it is dark.

Each one of the characters has their own background waiting to be revealed. Some are interesting while others are not. The motel manager is Larry (John Hawkes), a quiet mysterious guy with a chilling secret. What it is I won't reveal, but it doesn't mean you should remove/circle him from your list of suspects. The first person to arrive at the motel is George (John C. McGinley), and in his arms is his bleeding wife (Leila Kenzie), while at his side is his young son Tim (Bret Loehr). They had a bad accident on the slick highway, and again I won't tell you how it happens because this particular part of the plot is one of the best parts of the movie. I will say that the accident has to do with most of the other guests, and it is the reason why they are all brought to the motel, roughly around the same time.

Ed (John Cusack) is a limousine driver, although the car he is driving isn't a limousine, but that's a forgettable detail. The car belongs to Caroline (Rebecca De Mornay), a fading actress who is riding in the back seat. Newlyweds Lou and Ginny ((William Lee Scott and Clea DuVall) find themselves stuck at the motel. Their story is an example of one that isn't the least bit interesting; something to do with pregnancy, but it isn't developed enough for us to care . Paris (Amanda Peet) is a hooker leaving Las Vegas before she too is forced to stay at the motel. And finally, we have Rhodes, (Ray Liotta), a cop who is transporting a prisoner (Jake Busey) who has been condemned to die the following day after being convicted on multiple homicide charges.

When the characters arrive at the motel soaking wet, they are all given keys (numbered 1-10) and sent-off to their rooms. But before they get too cozy, a string of horrific events occur suggesting a killer is on the loose. There are many possibilities as to who the killer can be. It may be one of the guests, the motel manager, the prisoner, or possibly an outside party. When bodies, or heads of bodies, start showing up, everyone panics and begins pointing the finger. If you've seen Ray Liotta in "Narc," then you'll have a pretty good idea of how crazy things get. Most of the characters are hysterical, hasty and/or paranoid most of the time. Thankfully, writer Michael Cooney does us a favor by killing off the most annoying ones first.

While all of this is going on, a paralleling plot is taking place. A judge who found another man (Pruitt Taylor Vince) guilty of murder, is presiding over his 11th-hour appeal. Lawyers and psychiatrist (Alfred Mo-lina) are arguing insanity; saying the killer didn't know what he was doing. The two plots are obviously related to each other, but we don't see the connection until the climax.

While I found the intro exciting and the setup to be clever, I overestimated the middle portion. It moves at a normal pace, but it lacks the thrills. Rumors have suggested some of the killings are gory, but that is not the case for the actually killings. Some of the discovered corpses look graphic, but most of the deaths are unseen/off-camera, and some actually have nothing to do with the killer. A few scares here in there, but most come from bumping into a shadowy figure who isn't the killer. "Identity" is more of a mystery than anything else, but the horror appeal does keep us interested.

The ending is radical, but not impossible to figure out before it is revealed. The problem is that the story we are watching isn't completely reliable. Nothing is concrete; just like any who-done-it where the story is being told by a bias character. Something is tricking us, and the only way to figure it out is to study some of the bizarre and unexplainable events that take place. What I just stated is pretty big clue you can take with you to the theater.

I couldn't describe the final twist even if I wanted to. But it did have a creepy effect to it, and therefore I recommend it solely for the practice of trying to piece the puzzle together. Whether you hypothesis turns out correct or not, you will at least appreciate an original closer. It's one of those that doesn't affect you as you leave theater, but instead when you get home and have to time to reflect on it. In a sense, that is scarier than any conclusion that only offers a quick surprise before the credits roll.

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati