Directed by James Mangold, starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, Rebecca De Mornay, John C McGinley, William Lee Scott, Leila Kenzle and Bret Loehr.
It's cliché central in thriller 'Identity' as eleven strangers, stranded in a creepy motel on a dark and stormy night, are killed off one-by-one in a variety of implausible situations. Playing on the fashion for self-referential deconstructive slasher films ('Scream', 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'), this outing from director James Mangold is well-executed but ends up tripping on its own cleverness.
The setting is a 'Psycho'-like motel, complete with Larry (Hawkes), a manager who's a dead ringer for Norman Bates. There's a thunderstorm raging outside, spilling down the kind of rain last seen in 'Key Largo', roads are impassable and phones don't work. Stranded by the storm are limo driver Ed (Cusack), his demanding has-been TV actress passenger (played with complete conviction by De Mornay), a call-girl with a suitcase of cash (Peet), a family of three, (McGinley, Kenzle, Loehr), young couple Ginny and Lou (DuVall, Scott) plus a cop (Liotta) transporting a vicious killer (Busey). So far, so confusing. But numbers soon drop with the dramatic murder (shower curtain homage included) of victim number one.
There's also a framing narrative involving psychologist Alfred Molina and an attempt to get an execution stayed, the importance of which is only gradually - and awkwardly - revealed in the second half of the film. Although initially gripping, by the time the much-lauded twist becomes apparent, all the emotional capital you've invested in the characters drains away so that the eventual finale is an empty technical triumph.
That said, Mangold is capable of twisting up the notch on the tension meter and there are several popcorn-spilling scares - including an especially good nerve-frazzling scene in the motel Laundromat – and solid acting by the ensemble cast, Johns Cusack and Hawkes in particular. The ladies aren't so impressive, as Amanda Peet and Clea DuVall scream maniacally at the latest gory death and wander around in wet t-shirts. Taking the initial premise from Agatha Christie novel 'Ten Little Indians' and mixing it with references to (amongst others) 'The Omen', 'Primal Fear' and 'The Shining', Mangold is well-versed in cinematic convention and adept at exploiting the self-referential nature of the genre - shame it all falls apart towards the end. Preposterous but (just about) passable.