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I’ve been trying to remember the last time I saw a movie that went so badly off the rails in its third act and denouement as Side Effects. Another well-directed curio from prolific director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Haywire, Contagion -- in just the last two years!), the film begins as a grim, gray, thoughtful melodrama about prescription drug addiction, abuse and unwanted side effects. Then, with about a half hour to go, it veers crazily into....well, that would be telling and spoiling. But trust me: It’s not pretty.
NFL royalty Rooney Mara (the titular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) stars as the stressed-out wife of a fallen Wall Street Master of the Universe (Channing Tatum, Mr. Magic Mike himself), recently released from prison. Her downward spiral of depression after his return leads her to a well-meaning but financially pressed psychiatrist (Jude Law) who recommends a new drug that’s still in its trial phase. His reasons are not completely altruistic and things do not go well.
There’s one surprising twist about halfway through the movie, and a bunch of whacked-out insane ones in the last half hour, none of which I found the least bit believable and several that make what we’ve seen before make no sense. Mara’s one of the coldest actresses in Hollywood and not my cup of tea at all. Tatum is his usual likable lump o’ muscle, and Law delivers one more terrific acting turn in a thankless role that no one will care about. Catherine Zeta-Jones also has a key supporting part as Mara’s previous shrink, contributing another uptight and unconvincing performance.
Soderbergh has said this is last movie, that he’s bored with filmmaking, but Side Effects doesn’t have the feel of a bored auteur so much as an uncaring one. His visuals are still thoughtful and establish running themes throughout, but the story just sort of gives up with a half hour to go and implodes with a series of “holy sh!t” turnabouts thrown at the wall in hopes that something sticks. But they missed by a letter: It only stinks. (*1/2) -- Tom Siebert
It’s been reported that Identity Theft’s star Jason Bateman went out of his way to make sure Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) would co-star with him—in fact, he went as far as demanding McCarthy’s character be rewritten as a woman to ensure her participation. So, you would think that level of determination, coupled with the duo’s fantastic track record in comedy, this movie would be a slam dunk. But it’s not the case.
Bateman plays a hardworking accountant, well respected by his peers—but not by his greedy boss. We see him struggle, supporting a family of four (with pregnant wife), until his luck finally changes—his peers rescue him by opening up their own firm and making him Vice President. Perfect—the good guy wins! Well, he wins until a con woman (McCarthy), steals his identity, drains his bank accounts and ruins his credit. The accountant is forced to put a stop to the criminal’s tryst with his money at once—because his new job is on the line as a result of his ruined credit. Our hero takes things in his own hands and goes off on an adventure to find the perpetrator and bring her back to the police.
Honestly, I could have easily given this movie a decent rating—there was potential to get lost for 90 minutes in the poorly written jokes, but Identity Theft too often tried to cross into drama, and it stops the movie dead. There are several moments where the audience is meant to feel sorry for McCarthy’s character, as we see her inner struggles trying to find herself. But I found it extremely hard to empathize with someone who so easily lies and steals. Sorry, lady, I can’t identify with you—and the fact that the script tried to sway my feelings differently made me angry. If this movie had not attempted to shamelessly manipulate the audience’s emotions, I would have been a much happier attendee. (**) -- Alex White