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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Novocaine

Starring: Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: David Atkins
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genres: Comedy, Suspense

*Also starring: Elias Koteas, Laura Dern, Scott Caan

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Don't you just hate going to the dentist? Scripters Paul Felopulos and David Atkins have conjured up one patient who likes going so much that when she needs a root canal, she not only looks forward to getting it treated but seeks out four dentists before she allows any of them to do much with the decayed molar. Going to four dentists for the love of meeting and talking with them? This has got to be a fictional character. To be fair, though, young Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham Carter) has an ulterior motive. She does not hesitate to seduce them, at least digging her claws into DDS Frank Sangster (Steve Martin), but sex is not her ultimate objective. Susan is a drug addict and dentists carry refrigerators full of chemicals from novocaine to nitrous to injectable cocaine to demerol. Susan is clever enough to persuade the men with the drills to write prescriptions, forges a higher amount, and off she goes to kill her pain.

"Novocaine" is a dark comedy featuring one of our top comics, Steve Martin, in a role not as sinister as the one he played in David Mamet's marvelously written thriller "The Spanish Prisoner" nor as flat-out hilarious as the dentist in Frank Oz's "Little Shop of Horrors." He's somewhere between, first shown as a highly successful practitioner engaged to anal-compulsive hygienist Jean Noble (Laura Dern) with Lynne Thigpen as his no- nonsense but affectionate receptionist. He becomes the victim of a series of mishaps that ultimately finds him a suspect for murder, a dilemma he could have avoided had he not succumbed to the temptation in the form of an unstable, conniving woman whose eroticism charms him because Susan is the opposite of his compulsively neat and orderly fiancee.

Though David Atkins's film is overplotted, with the director juggling several conceits including sibling dysfunction. Susan has an incestuous thing going with her wastrel brother Duane (Scott Caan) while Dr. Sangster feels an obligation to care for his unsuccessful, envious, drug-and-drink addicted sib Harlan (Elias Koteas). "Novocaine" is frequently as giddy as a ride on nitrous--which does not come close to dulling the pain felt by the good doctor as his life takes on the decay for which rotting teeth provide an apt metaphor.

Czech-born photographer Vilko Filac peppers the narrative with x-ray shots of patients' teeth and entire heads, skeletal figures lurid enough to scare the kids at Halloween while a non-intrusive, effective score is provided by "Edward Scissorhands" musician Steve Bartek.

Atkins, whose script for "Arizona Dream" dealt with the loss of the American Dream, plays winningly with a similar theme this time around as well, highlighting a person who has it all and yet is vaguely dissatisfied and helps bring disaster upon himself when his brain transfers to a position below his waist.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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