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Novocaine (David Atkins) 2001 

Steve Martin has already made a film noir comedy (Dead Men Donít Wear Plaid) so Novocaineís concept initially feels a bit like a retread. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Novocaine forgoes Plaidís outright parody, and goes for a subtler, absurdist feel. Even though it doesnít feel as reverent (indebted?) to the genre, this is fine, as Plaid felt like a one-joke film (it combined new footage of Martin with stock footage of old detective films). In Novocaine, Martin plays Frank, a successful dentist whoís contentedly boring, in the standard noir tradition. His idyllic life is turned on end when his no-good brother (Elias Koteas, who doesnít do much with the role) turns up at his home, and worsens when a narcotics-stealing junkie (Helena Bonham Carter, once again as Fight Clubís Marla Singer) comes into his office. Thereís nothing inherently wrong with the setup. The decision to make Frank a dentist allows for some heavy-handed metaphors (a lie spreads like tooth decay) and many trick shots that show us an X-ray view of the characters. The filmís ending cleverly lets the dentist, who always causes pain in the pretense of preservation, get a taste of his own medicine. 

The film is sometimes undeniably clever and its vision of the world is suitably askew, but often the tone wobbles unevenly between straight drama and morbid comedy. Once blood begins spilling, the killings become needlessly gory, and undermine some of the oddball charm. The preponderance of shots that show penetrating needles and teeth extraction will leave a good portion of the audience squirming. Several neat shots play with perspective to show a very cramped Frank, and itís tough to tell whether weíre supposed to be giggling at his predicament or sympathizing with him. At no point does the film feel inept, but many of the twists feel somewhat arbitrary and forced. Its multiple X-ray shots of its actors feel somewhat appropriate since the mechanics of the plot seem to be laid bare. Oddly enough, though the physical is completely on display, we never really see enough of the emotional inside of a few characters to understand the motivations at hand. The filmís cast is excellent (the ever-dependable Laura Dern has a fun role as Frankís girlfriend), but is somewhat wasted here. The script doesnít have a deep enough understanding of its characters to elevate a lot of the material above gross-out meanness. 

**1/2 

11/15/01 

Jeremy Heilman