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Ten strangers are forced to seek refuge in a run-down desert motel one dark and stormy night--and soon realize they've found anything but shelter.


Identity seems at first to be a cross between Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho but then twists into something even more surprising. It opens with a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) examining the file of a serial killer who may or may not be on the loose and cuts to 10 travelers who find themselves stranded at a desolate motel during a savage rainstorm with no communications and no way out. A good place to start getting picked off one by one by an unknown killer, where the culprit could be any one of the eclectic cast of characters. Could it be Larry (John Hawkes), the twitchy motel manager; Ed (John Cusack), a secretive limo driver; Caroline (Rebecca DeMornay), a washed-up actress; Rhodes (Ray Liotta), a suspicious cop transporting a killer (Jake Busey) to jail; Paris (Amanda Peet), a hooker with a heart of gold, or a pair of not-so-happy newlyweds, Ginny (Clea DuVall) and Lou (William Lee Scott)? To round out the group, there is also the York family--stepdad George (John C. McGinley), young son Timmy (Bret Loehr) and mom (Leila Kenzle), who has been seriously injured in a car accident. As the dead begin to outnumber the living, the hapless survivors have precious time to figure out why they've all been drawn to this motel--and whom among them is a cold-blooded murderer. The answer turns the film on end.


From a bevy of some very good performances, let's see if you can guess who the murderer is. The always good Cusack leads the pack with the strongest performance as Ed, who isn't your typical limo driver but a person whose secrets run deep--namely that he was once a cop who got burnt out. Cusack plays the character aptly half-wounded, half-heroic and you never really suspect him as the killer. Still, he keeps you wondering. Liotta, on the other hand, has the killer mark stamped all over him as the moody Rhodes but follows Cusack's footsteps in expertly putting just the requisite amount of doubt in your mind. DeMornay's snooty has-been actress gets whacked right away (oops, did I give too much away?) and Busey's satanic face once again fuels another bad guy, which makes him way too obvious to be the killer. DuVall, who can do much, much more as an actress, is mostly delegated to screaming and crying a lot while Peet's tender-hearted Paris, whose pure impetus to go home to Florida to grow oranges, is just too sweet. Hawkes' Larry is a sniveling coward who doesn't seem smart enough to commit murder, while the strange circumstances of the York family, with the nerdy McGinley and the sad, scared little Loehr, would seem to take them out of the loop. Or does it?


As Identity's who-can-the-killer-be scenario plays out, you sense something isn't quite right. At the halfway point, you begin to believe the film may have missed the mark. Director James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted) does his best Hitchcock impersonation but it doesn't seem to work. Even with a stellar cast, the dialogue seems too trite, the characters almost wooden. You're afraid the film is turning into just another run-of-the-mill entry in the thriller genre--and you feel like you are wasting your time. Then comes the unexpected and fresh twist and it's the key to saving Identity. Without giving too much away, just know this: Once you see where the film is going, everything sort of falls into place and you understand why the characters and action seem more like they came from a storybook than from real life. Still, even with a clever turn of events, Identity could have taken a little more time before the secret is let out to develop the story a little better.

Bottom Line

Just when you think Identity is just another typical thriller, its original twist hits you on the head, leaving you spinning.