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Novocaine Movie Review

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Steve Martin has been all but missing from theaters in the last couple of years, and it seems that at least a couple of his films - The Spanish Prisoner for one - have taken darker twists. His latest venture, the limited release, darkly comical thriller Novocaine, about a dentist who is unwittingly drawn into a web of lies and betrayal, and becomes a murder suspect, shows that he is once again trying to broaden his range from light comedies to more serious fare. But, is Martin up to the task?

The fact is, no matter what movie Steve Martin does, he is going to be looked at as a comedian. In The Spanish Prisoner, he really wasn't funny at all, but there was something about him that just continued to remind me of the rest of his career. He wasn't bad at all, but it's hard to take him seriously. In Novocaine, Martin does the smart thing and blends darkness with comedy. Much like Jim Carrey has been trying to do over the last couple of years, Martin is trying to bridge the gap between his career and the career he obviously wants for the rest of his years by doing something in the middle.

Steve Martin stars as Dr. Frank Sangster, a very Steve Martin kind of name for some reason or another, who gets into troubles when late one night he hesitantly decides to cheat on his girlfriend (Jurassic Park's Laura Dern) with a sexy new patient (Fight Club's Helena Bonham Carter) who he knows is more interested in the drugs he can prescribe than anything else. Nonetheless, he has a great time with her, but the next morning he is informed that most of his drugs have disappeared, leading him to the obvious conclusion. Of course, instead of informing the authorities right away, he decides to deal with it on his own, since he really doesn't want his girlfriend finding out that he cheated on her. His lies, though, dig him into a deeper hole, and he gets dragged into a plot that involves murder.

Sounds really funny, doesn't it? Novocaine's plot is serious, and a lot of the movie is dark, just like any thriller, but what really keeps it alive is the little laughs here and there. Without the comedy, Novocaine is just another thriller like any other, only starring an unlikely lead, Steve Martin. With the comedy, it is an entertaining, slightly mysterious film that allows Martin to flex his muscles a little bit without stepping too far away from protected territory. Martin is allowed some great lines, and there are some quirky tidbits along the way that will have you cracking up. A long cameo sequence by Kevin Bacon, as a movie star who is researching his next role as a police officer, is absolutely hilarious, and that little bunny rabbit on the movie's cover has its own little secret to tell. Laura Dern also turns in a great performance, playing a sometimes very proper, other times rather wacky character.

There are only two problems with Novocaine, both of which are fairly minor in the long run. Like many of this kinds of movies, Martin's character begins to lie time after time, trying to figure out a way to get out of his mess. Of course, it is obvious that he is going to fail, and Novocaine is especially excruciating in that Dr. Sangster makes so many stupid mistakes that it is almost hard to believe that he made it through medical school. His mistake-making fades out after a little while, but for a fifteen minute stretch or so, it is almost hard to watch as he basically messes his life up in that time frame.

My only other complaint, and this one is a little more major, is the ending. It reminded me a lot of The Whole Nine Yards, only really bad, and I wasn't overly satisfied with the conclusion. I could have gone with something a little more light-hearted, and not so gut-wrenching, and would have been happy. Obviously writer/director David Atkins wanted to go with something a little different, but Novocaine's ending... well, watch the movie and see what I mean.

And it is worth watching. Novocaine has a few good twists, some great comedy, and a dark plot that shows once again that Steve Martin is able to due something other than his usual fare. It has its weak moments, especially in the end, but the middle of the film, the hardest act in any movie, is a lot of fun.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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