What is it about dentists that make people so squeamish? In the new dark comedy-thriller Novocaine, that question gets answered, but it's not the answer you think-or unfortunately, one you even care about.
Dr. Frank Sangster, D.D.S. (Steve Martin) has a great life. He has a thriving dental practice, a lovely fiancée who is also his dental hygienist (Laura Dern)--and a subconscious desire to have something unexpected happen to him. Enter Susan Ivy (Helena Bonham Carter), a slightly off-balance patient who seduces the doctor one night in his office and ends up cleaning him out of all his pain medication. Susan and her equally whacked brother (Scott Caan) steal the drugs and then sell them on the streets. So begins Frank's spiral downward as he tries to find the elusive Susan to clear his name-but what he really wants to do is find Susan because of his attraction to her. He stupidly continues to pursue this crazy woman and ends up being accused for a lot more than dope dealing, discovering his happy little life is not at all what is seems. But wait, isn't that what he wanted all along?
Martin's top billing is what really draws you to this film-the chance to see the funnyman in action. But unfortunately, in Novocaine, Martin is terribly miscast as the straight man. At any moment, you wish he'd break out into some kind of wackiness, some sort of physical comedy, but almost three quarters through the film, you realize it just isn't going to happen. The supporting cast, however, does a better job in their roles, especially Dern, who plays Jean, the obsessive-compulsive hygienist who has a secret agenda. She puts something a little off-key into her performance and nails it. Also good was Elias Koteas as Frank's ne'er-do-well brother, who fits in the puzzle in an interesting way. However, Bonham Carter once again plays a disheveled mess of a woman, in badly need of really good eye makeup remover. It worked in Fight Club; here, it is just old hat.
The film had a tough time figuring out what it wanted to be. On the one hand, it was going for that film noir thriller where the doctor is an unsuspecting sap getting drawn into a world of sex, drugs and murder by a comely woman, much to his supposed reluctance. But it only went about halfway when suddenly it changed directions and became a Coen-ish dark comedy, exploring the gruesome details of dental care. Then the movie switched gears again and tried to throw in a The Usual Suspects-type twist at the end. Which isn't to say there weren't a few good moments, especially in the beginning when the premise was being set up. But director David Atkins didn't know how to deal with the subject matter or his leading actor to bring out the best in the material. Novocaine could have been better, in the hands of, say, Joel Coen. Instead, it just seemed to be a conglomerate of better films in those genres.
For what is suppose to be a twisty thriller starring the usually great Martin, don't expect too much from the tepid Novocaine.