Review by Michael Jacobson
Steve Martin, Laura Dern, Helena Bonham Carter, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan
Director: David Atkins
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: April 23, 2002
what the hell is going on?”
I’m being booked for murder. Isn’t
may be a drug to dull your senses, but the movie named after it is more of
an experience akin to it wearing off. Writer/director
David Atkins has assembled a fine cast to weave an offbeat story of sex, drugs,
and murder…all in a day’s work for one mild mannered dentist.
dentist is Dr. Frank Sangster (Martin), a successful man with a thriving
practice, a beautiful assistant and fiancée Jean Noble (Dern), and an
uncomplicated life. But as they say
in every film noir, “she walked in, and I knew she was trouble.”
Susan Ivey (Carter) has every nuance of a femme fatale, which is why
Frank should have obeyed his first instinct and stayed away from her.
a root canal, she begs him for a prescription for Demerol, which is like the
Grand Poobah of narcotics. He
reluctantly agrees to write out one for five tablets only.
A little flick of the pen and five becomes fifty, a fact that the
pharmacist checks up on…but not exactly in a timely way.
Frank tell the truth? No, he
decides to cover his tracks. But,
as he observes, “A lie is like tooth decay.”
One small one starts an unraveling that Frank can’t begin to stop.
He shouldn’t see Susan again, but he can’t resist, especially when
she entertains his secret desire to make love in a dentist’s chair!
Later, a stash of drugs disappears from his office and some kid ends up
in a debilitating car accident carrying a bottle with Frank’s name on it. Things are going from bad to worse.
plays like a
darkly comic version of Detour, where one man’s mistake leads to a
barrage of events he can’t control nor stop.
I don’t want to give too many of the twists away, but it’s safe to
say not everyone or everything is who or what it appears to be.
Ever notice how red paint kind of looks like blood?
Funny, isn’t it? Then
Atkins takes the director’s chair for the first time with this film, and he
clearly had a good time with his script and his actors.
His opening shot, a long technical tour-de-force all within the confines
of an examination room, is priceless. He
seems to have a sense for both noir and comedy, though to be honest, the
blending of both elements wasn’t always smooth…more like an under-mixed
pudding that tastes good, but you can’t ignore the lumps.
there are plenty of moments that are both intriguing and funny, and some just
plain odd, such as an unlikely place to hide a pair of dentures (and an even
more unlikely use for them). But
the script and action are well paced, and often unmistakably punctuated.
When Frank tries to flee from the cops, for example, there’s only one
way it can end. Badly.
Martin is the right choice for this role. Having
abandoned his once famed “wild and crazy guy” persona, he’s spent the last
decade as one of cinema’s best comic actors, and even better, a perfect kind
of everyman for the audience to identify with.
That quality is what makes us like Frank, even when he should have known
better. Both Laura Dern and Helena
Bonham Carter bring their comedic best, as well.
And I haven’t even touched upon the nice supporting roles offered by
Elias Koteas and Scott Caan.
of all is the surprise appearance of a favorite star, completely unbilled,
playing an actor following the cop investigating Frank as research for a role.
You’ll definitely get a laugh when you see who it is.
Novocaine is definitely a movie a step or two off the beaten path.
It’s sense of playful daring may not always gel, but there are more
than a few moments of pure genius at work, and still plenty of fun to be had for
the curious and adventurous.
is a quality anamorphic offering from Artisan…though modest in set design and
color schemes, the transfer is clean and sharp, with no visible blemishes and no
evidence of compression. Images are
well rendered, and coloring is generally very good and well contained, with only
a small amount of background softness here and there.
mostly driven by the dialogue, the 5.1 offering is a lively mix, with a few
crowd scenes and musical cues opening up the front and rear stages nicely.
The .1 channel is sparingly but tastefully used for impact and more
dynamic range here and there. Crossovers are not extensive, but independent channel usage
is clean and well-mixed. As an
added note, one of the tunes on the soundtrack is performed by the director’s
a bad package of extras, starting with a formidable commentary track by David
Atkins, who is both informative and occasionally funny (kind of like his movie,
actually!), and a pleasure to listen to. The
disc lacks an in-depth featurette, but tries to make up for it with two smaller
ones, a brief 9 minute production reel and another on the art of forensic
dentistry with a man who does it for a living.
There are 5 deleted scenes, a small collection of music cues from the
film, two trailers and bonus ones for other Artisan offerings, production notes
and talent files.
drawback, though, is that these are the most difficult menu screens to navigate
I’ve encountered in a while. Though
everything is laid out plainly and nicely, for some reason, getting the pointer
to move is a hassle. My player kept
beeping that it was receiving the signal from my remote, but I had to press the
same buttons over and over again to make a selection, and then press enter two
or three times in a row to get the selection to activate.
The cursor is a little syringe with the liquid inside running down…a
cute bit of animation, but possibly the cause of the grief.