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SIDE EFFECTS directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Scott Z. Burns, with Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum. An eOne Films release. 105 minutes. Opens Friday (February 8). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
If Steven Soderbergh really is retiring from moviemaking, as he's claimed in a number of recent interviews, Side Effects is an intriguing way to go out.
Written by Scott Z. Burns, who scripted the director's The Informant! and Contagion, Side Effects presents itself as a moody medical drama about Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a profoundly depressed young woman who's sunk further into darkness in the four years her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), has been in jail for insider trading.
Even after his release, she can't rouse herself from her misery - until psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) puts her on a new drug called Ablixa. A few weeks later, something very bad happens. And then, well, Side Effects pivots and becomes a different movie entirely.
If you go with that turnaround, you'll probably find Side Effects more fun than I did. Soderbergh and Burns shift gears so sharply that it took me a while to start caring about the new iteration of the story, which is rooted in a certain type of thriller that was in vogue in the late 80s and early 90s. In fact, there's one picture Side Effects follows so closely that even citing its title would constitute a huge spoiler - but you'll figure it out.
I'm not so sure the shift works. Or rather, I'm not sure the first half of Side Effects lines up with the second. (And incidentally, neither half is the movie the trailer and TV spots are selling.) But that may be the point; certainly, it would go a long way toward explaining Catherine Zeta-Jones's awful, winky performance as Emily's previous therapist.
If what Zeta-Jones is doing is intentional, and Soderbergh is using her to hang a lantern on the inherently ludicrous elements of his story, that's clever. But either way, the character's scenes are campier than anything else in Side Effects, which might also explain some of my problems with the film. It's not that Zeta-Jones is in a different movie. Quite the opposite, actually. She's in the second half of Side Effects even when she's in the first half, if you catch my meaning.