according to the internet movieDatabase, Novocaine is both a comedy and a thriller. This would be true if the film were either funny or thrilling. Unfortunately, it's neither. Steve Martin plays Frank Sangster, a dental surgeon with a booming practice. He's engaged to his hygienist (Laura Dern) and has a huge modern house. Then a beautiful young woman (Helena Bonham Carter) shows up looking for a Demerol prescription, his wastrel ex-junkie brother (Elias Koteas) appears, and his life goes to hell what with all his pharmaceuticals missing, a dead body in his house and the police trying to catch him and fry him.
First-time director David Atkins has two previous screen credits. He wrote Emir Kusturica's Arizona Dream and something called Peroxide Passion, which is unreleased.
The toughest thing in this sort of cross-genre piece is getting the tone right, and Atkins never really does. While he gets good performances from Bonham Carter, who recycles her American accent from Fight Club, and Laura Dern, and the film has undeniable moments, it's never quite there.
Of course, you don't expect a novice director to show the directing chops of a master filmmaker, unless, of course, he is a master, but I kept comparing Novocaine to the way Joel Coen, without ever being tricky about it, conveys a sense of the world as an airless prison in The Man Who Wasn't There.
Novocaine shares a certain quality with that film, but Atkins fails to indicate the ways the beautifully controlled environment his protagonist calls home may be anything but his proper setting, the dissatisfaction that leads him to extremely inappropriate behaviour with Bonham Carter's bad girl.
It isn't so much that Novocaine tries to be a comedy and a thriller as that it can't decide which it is.
novocaine written and directed by David Atkins, produced by Paul Mones and Daniel Rosenberg, with Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas and Scott Caan. 94 minutes. An Artisan release. Opens Friday (November 16). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 94. Rating: NN