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Before I stepped into this one I have heard bad word of mouth on it from friends who heard from friends. Even then when it shows up on the Toronto International Film Festival screening list, I sign up. I'm a huge Steve Martin fan and even through some of his (ahem) lesser films my faith has never wavered.
So take this review with a slight hesitation, because the moments I have disliked something of Steve's are few and far between. Truth is, I look forward to seeing this again on DVD with a commentary to hear both Steve and David discuss the intricacies of the film in detail.
Novocaine resembles a modern film noir with some slightly demented dental details tossed in to liven up the script.
Doctor Frank Sangster (Steve Martin playing a dentist for the second time re. Little Shop Of Horrors) has a perfect life.
He is engaged to a lanky, All-American blonde named Jean Noble (Laura Dern), who works with him as a dental hygienist. His office is busy and immaculate, his sex life is great and Frank is a very happy man. However, he can't shake the feeling that it's all just an illusion, the details of which come clear as the good Doctor's narration comes to us time and time again.
As if on cue, his deadbeat younger brother Harlan (Elias Koteas) shows up at Frank's house and makes for the bathroom drug supply. Later, a provocative brunette calling herself Susan Ivy (Helena Bonham Carter), appears in his chair in need of a root canal and, she tells him, a lot of pain-killers. When he gives her the prescription and an appointment for the next morning, Frank's life takes a decidedly imperfect turn. Soon, he is drawn into a maelstrom of sex, drugs and murder and by turns has to evade the police, the DEA, a bruiser named Duane and one really angry fiancee. Motivated by the desire to create a new life for himself and the woman he loves, Frank plunges further into the fray to prove his innocence.
A macabre little film with bits of uniquely timed humor (A running gag about slipping in blood) this film succeeds on most levels. A sometimes predictable story line that makes up for it by adding the elements of the dental world to such a degree that one leaves the film feeling as if they actually learned something about the industry.
Another point in the scripts favour is that when it does begin to waver slightly under it's narrative new situations or characters are brought in to bolster it up. A fine example is one of the best small roles I have seen in awhile played to perfection by Kevin Bacon. Kevin plays an actor who is hanging around the police during the investigation to get tips for an up-coming role.
The rest of the cast is truly on board for this film as well. Steve Martin, mostly playing the straight man does have time to let loose a few sharp lines of comedy and again, the physical running gag of slipping in blood. Laura Dern is back, looking great and playing an obsessive compulsive girlfriend to the hilt.
Scott Caan as a hot-headed brother is nasty, and when this film turns nasty it does get bloody, a definite departure for Steve Martin flicks. In fact, the entire cast meshes very well together, Bonham Carter brings a love her hate her vulnerability to her role that you never quite trust and Elias Koteas as Frank's brother knows how to play a real jerk when he wants to.
Perhaps this film won't open big but it would be nice to see some word of mouth spread around on this little movie. After all, this is David Atkin's directorial debut (though he wrote Arizona Dream), support the man and let's see what he can do when the bar is raised.
Copyright© Staffwriter: Rob Paul
Getting the Shot- The Making of Novocaine
Bitten- An Exploration into Forensic Dentistry
Music of Novocaine
Cast and Crew Bios
Video: Widescreen 1.78:1 (Anamorphic)
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1 [CC]
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Surround
The DVD Review: