Novocaine (2001) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexuality, language and drug content
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan
Director: David Atkins
Screenplay: David Atkins

Review published December 16, 2001

After his memorable turn in Little Shop of Horrors playing a dentist, Steve Martin (Bowfinger, The Prince of Egypt) plays another one in Novocaine, an oddly interesting yet ultimately unsatisfying comic-thriller.  While the Hitchcockian plot and meandering storyline are too familiar to make this film a gripping thriller, it's the way in which it is told that at least gives Novocaine a feeling of freshness.  While first-time director David Atkins gives the film a surrealistic feel in certain scenes, he actually could have made the film better by going further into the bizarro world, a la David Lynch -- and why not since Lynch favorite Laura Dern (Jurassic Park III, Dr. T and the Women) is on board for the ride.

The plot:  Frank Sangster (Martin) is a successful dentist who has his life turned upside down by a strange but sexy woman (Carter, Planet of the Apes) who seduces him in order to score some of the potent drugs they keep in the office.  When the young woman's drug-dealing brother is found dead, Sangster is the suspect and must fight for his life in order to get to the bottom of what's going on.

I have seen a good share of thrillers over the years, and I suppose this is why I am frequently bored while watching them.  There are so many recycled plots filtered into almost every one of them that you might only get a truly good one every two or three years.  While Novocaine is certainly not a typical thriller in the content and directorial style, at its core it is just another innocent-man-accused storyline and, as many of the films in this style, the result is less than satisfactory once you find out what's going on. 

Novocaine can't be called odd as much as it can be called uneven.  There are some interesting elements that permeate the tale, yet it just never really seems to get itself together to form a solid foundation to entertain.  It always seems like it might take us down a road we may never have been before and become very good, yet we are disappointed that it never does.  Novocaine feels more like a rough draft for a movie instead of a finished and fully realized production.  If you are a fan of Martin or just quirky thrillers, I would gather it's worth a rental, but most everyone else may feel that Novocaine's all-bark and no bite.

Qwipster's rating::

2001 Vince Leo