If it were Spanish, or Japanese. if the big twist had a different pivot. If Hitchcock were still working. There are a million fantasy factors that might have made Identity a thriller for the ages. As it stands, it's smart, sharp and scary enough for now, even with its goosey leaps of logic and brazen plot scam. Ten strangers get stranded at a motel in a rainstorm. One by one, murder strikes. One head lopped off, one impaling, one baseball bat down the throat. Each victim's body is decorated with a numbered room key -- 10, 9, 8....
Juicy. And that same night, a murderer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) tries for a last-minute reprieve on the eve of his execution.
Identity powers along on a knowing script by Michael Cooney. There's a motel and a shower curtain, and a body countdown and a little boy at the vortex of the violence. These are killer thriller icons and this movie lays them out like brie in a mousetrap.
But Identity works because director James Mangold keeps the focus on his characters.
John Cusack, as an ex-cop now slumming as a limo driver, brings his no-bullshit intelligence to the part. He's the pair of eyes you trust. In fact, the whole cranked cast (Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John McGinley) flesh out their roles with amazing conviction. And Mangold (Heavy) keeps his fluid camera close, moving with the characters like a pilot fish.
Then the twist happens, and the bottom falls out of the movie. That's because the twist is external to the story. It's not a revelation to a character in the film, it's a revelation to you. As such, it's a cheat. The movie recovers, but barely.
Identity won't likely stand up to repeat viewings, but it's expertly made and doles out its shocks like bonbons.
IDENTITY directed by James Mangold, written by Michael Cooney, produced by Cathy Konrad, with John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Clea DuVall, John Hawkes, William Lee Scott, John McGinley, Rebecca De Mornay and Pruitt Taylor Vince. 90 minutes. A Columbia release. Opens Friday (April 25). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 74. Rating: NNNN