Identity is a film that doesn't play fair. It's designed to be completely review proof in that for critics who don't like the film it's almost impossible to explain why without blowing the whole thing for the viewer. With this in mind, I present to you one of the most cryptic reviews I've ever had the displeasure of writing.
Ten strangers converge upon a seedy motel in the Nevada desert in search of shelter from an uncharacteristically violent storm that has flooded the roads in either direction. The ten little indians for this film are Ed (Cusack), an ex-cop who now serves as a driver for has been television star, Carloline (De Mornay); Ginny and Lou (DuVall and William Lee Scott), a pair of white trash Vegas newlyweds; Paris (Peet), a hooker headed home to her newly purchased Florida orange grove; Larry (John Hawkes), the paranoid and flaky motel clerk; George, Alice and Timmy York( John C. McGinley, Leila Kenzle, and Brett Loehr), a creepy family whose matriarch was hit by Ed's limo in the storm, and Officer Rhodes (Liotta) and his prison transfer, Rob (Busey), a wise-cracking multiple murderer. When Caroline ventures out into the rain to try and get a signal on her cell phone, her head later turns up in the motel laundry room, where Ed, Larry and Rhodes discover a room key marked 10. Coincidentally, Rhode's con has escaped his shackles, and the group surmises that Rob is the culprit. As more murders occur, more key chains with room numbers turn up, symbolizing a countdown...10..9..8..7..and so on.
Interspersed with the goings on at the motel are scenes in which a psychologist and a criminal review board are assembled for a late night session in an attempt to get a stay of execution for a mass murderer who they believe suffers from multiple personality syndrome. As the board awaits the prisoners arrival, the folks back at the Motel 666 are dropping like flies. It's when these two storylines interweave that Identity goes from a top-notch Hitchcockian thriller to a big steaming pile of parlor trick hokum.
I can't get into any more detail than that without blowing the film's big "twist" ending that aspires to blow minds but instead blows chunks. It's perhaps one of the laziest executions of a plot device I've witnessed, and just when you think it sinks to its lowest point, the last moments drag it down into an abyss of absolutely astonishing ineptitude that would have been screamingly funny were it not so infuriating. It's a shame because for the first 40 minutes or so, Identity is an effective and unsettling thriller, with great performances by the ever-reliable Cusack, the hilarious Hawkes and the "strong is sexy" Peet. Director James Mangold proves quite adept at creating tension from the get go, balancing dread with welcome comic relief, and developing his characters with knowing looks and actions rather than heaps of expository dialogue. The film's a winner until Michael Cooney's screenplay seemingly self-destructs on the screen during the third act. Once again, I can't explain this too thoroughly without giving up the ghost, but I will say that the twist presented here could have been something brilliant were it built upon with a modicum of subtlety, and then later fleshed out with some semblance of care. Instead, it's dropped on us like a brick shit house, and hands us the mop.
Identity is a film that starts with a bang and ends with a buggering without the courtesy of a reach-around. There's so much care and craft put into the first two acts (acting, direction, suspense) that I can't give it a totally negative review, but it took every fiber of my being not to.