Too clever for its own good

There have been a few notable films spoiled for me because the "twist" somehow made it to my ears before the film itself made it to my eyes. Often, the viewing experience isn't so much ruined as diminished slightly - there's nothing for me like being surprised. So it was with a dreadful hesitation I changed the channel to Identity tonight.

The main thrust of the plot relates to a group of people who end up stranded at a hotel in the Nevada desert in the middle of a rainstorm - and yes, that does happen, but so rarely that the ground is simply incapable of absorbing the moisture, often resulting in flooding and such. That's not the only trouble brewing, as our guests start getting picked off, one by one, under quite mysterious circumstances.

The fortunate bit is that they don't hold on to the major structural "secret" until the end of the film. There are enough hints that the clever amongst us will pick up on it quite quickly. Now, for those who don't want to be spoiled - I'm finding I can't get far in this review without actually spilling the beans. So here's the place you should bail out, with the knowledge that so much meticulous effort was made in building this world, that there was really little room for heart.

Those staying with me this far, I'll assume, have seen it, or prefer to spoil their movie experiences.

So, the thing is that the people at the hotel only exist in the mind of a murderer with multiple personalities. There is a kind of war going on, largely oblivious to the characters, over this man's sanity. The framing device for the film surrounds a last minute hearing to stay an execution - is the body responsible for what just one personality did? Each death at this not-so-real hotel is one personality laid to rest, the victim of one that wishes to survive.

It's a clever, clever idea. The execution is fairly clever as well. The problem is that, once the nature of reality is established, we begin to stop caring about the characters. Them living or dying is on a completely different scale than the "real" world.

The ending shows a deeper cleverness (that one I'll stay away from for now), yet that final twist is a highly forseeable one. Really, anyone paying attention will know what's still left hanging at that point, plus we're treading some familiar ground as well.

There's not a lot to recommend Identity - maybe for curiosity, and the fact that the suspene sequences are pretty good. But for making sense as a whole, or any meaning to be gleaned from the project, the film just comes up empty.

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