Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sleeping Pills

Side Effects       Final Cut Score: 70%


This is no easy assignment.

Reviewing a film whose success hinges on a plot swerve makes writing about said film somewhat restrictive. It's not like I can say: "Character X bites the dust", "Character Y is the killer" or "Character Z gets played". So with Side Effects let's go generic: "Not everyone is who they seem to be".

Unfortunately that's the major malfunction with Steven Soderbergh's wannabe-Hitchcockian, OD'd-on-pharmaceuticals thriller, everyone is who they seem to be and its big twist is telegraphed so soon after its start, there's zero shock value and zero suspense as the film plods towards its pathetically pat ending.

The rail-thin Rooney Mara stars as Emily, a depressed New Yorker who gets a bit of a mood boost with her hubby's (Channing Tatum in what qualifies as a cameo) release from prison after an extended stay for insider trading. Though it's good for a romp in the sack or two, the reunion isn't sizzling enough to break Emily's gloom and doom cycle as she falls under the care of a doctor (Jude Law) who specializes in prescribing the perfect SSRI for any mental malady.

With Zoloft not cutting it, Emily - thanks to a nudge from her mysterious former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) - starts popping the hottest antidepressant Ablixa. But the lame-named drug carries a nasty side effect along with it: a proclivity to do really, really bad things while sleepwalking.

As I fear I'm treading perilously close to the spoilage line – synopsis kaput.

Working with Soderbergh for a third time, writer Scott Z. Burns' (The Informant!, Contagion) screenplay is as over-medicated as the society we inhabit – any of the 77 incarnations of CSI serve up a similar swerved plotline on a weekly basis.

And it's not like figuring out caper is difficult. For a man who purportedly graduated from med school, Law isn't exactly quick on the draw putting the preschool-sized pieces of the puzzle together. Though it's a ridiculously telling remark by Zeta-Jones early on that spoils everything that follows.

If - as he's hinted - this is Soderbergh's swan song, it's a shame he didn't quit one project prior. Where Soderbergh's skills elevated Magic Mike's entertainment value exponentially, Side Effects and its listless script drags Soderbergh down to an also-ran level.

But what'd you expect? Regardless of the talent behind - and in front of - the cam, it's February, the dregs of the cinematic season. When you examine Side Effects in that light, Soderbergh succeeds, he fills the season's presupposed prescription of blah with ease.