Novocaine (2001)

(In theaters, November 2001) I happen to believe that there’s a place in every cinephile’s heart for the little B-movie that works, the out-of-left-field video rental that simply proves to be a fun rental on a slow evening. No top-ten material nor DVD-essential, Novocaine nevertheless proves to be a fun black comedy—a light noir film, if you like. This first feature by director David Atkins treads in the same water as 1999’s under-appreciated Goodbye Lover, with a slightly off-kilter send-up of the usual genre conventions. Novocaine is carried by Steve Martin, with Helen Hunt and Helena Bonham Carter in crunchy roles (Voyeur alert 1: Bonham Carter even takes off her clothes. Voyeur alert 2: She’s more beautiful with them on.) and Kevin Bacon’s cameo is simply hilarious. This is not a film that succeeds because of its plot: Due to the small budget, the cast is very small and the whodunit is consequently easy to unravel. But even then, the film’s sense of fun is constant, from the meta-fictional Bacon character to the several small scenes almost parodying the genre conventions. (Think escapes; the easy ones and the hard ones.) While the directing may be a bit flashy for some, special merit should be given to a pair of continuous shots inside the dentist’s cabinet, wonderful examples of cinematic technique. It all adds up to an unassuming, fully satisfying thriller that should do the job next time you don’t know what to rent at the video store.

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