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Channing Tatum stars in Side Effects, a medical drama directed by Steven Soderbergh.

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Channing Tatum stars in Side Effects, a medical drama directed by Steven Soderbergh.

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A woman wakes up by a river somewhere in France. She has a wound on her head, stitches in her abdomen, a duffel bag stuffed with two million euros and a gun -- and no memory of who she is or how she got there.

The premise might lead you to believe this is a Scandinavian variant of The Bourne Identity or The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Rest assured the woman who comes to be known as Ida (Tuva Novotny) will never demonstrate prodigious ass-kicking abilities as the mystery slowly unravels.

In fact, while the film has a significant crime component, director Christian E. Christiansen (The Roommate) ultimately delivers an old-school melodrama -- what used to be called a "woman's picture" -- following blank-slate Ida as she evades some menacing pursuers in a white van and traces her past back to Copenhagen.

There, she discovers she is married to a popular singer named Justin Ore (Flemming Enevold). That makes her married name Ida Ore. (Is this subtle product placement for frozen potato-based foods company Ore-Ida? Just asking.)

Suffice it to say her marriage is not a happy one. But it takes another trauma to impel her to recall the truth behind her mysterious circumstances, with a little help from a grungy Danish private eye.

The Bourne association actually works against this film; it doesn't even try to match that franchise's high-octane thrills. This diverting little thriller more closely resembles what Bourne would have looked like if it had been produced as a Lifetime movie. Two and a half stars

 

Dark Skies

THE makers of Dark Skies accepted the challenge of coming up with something new in the horror movie and devised a unique genre mash-up: one-third haunted house movie, one-third demonic possession movie and one-third alien invasion movie.

Writer-director Scott Stewart (Priest, Legion) sets his tale against the ordinary horror of a faltering economy. Dad Daniel (Josh Charles) is an unemployed architect. Mom Lacy (Keri Russell) is trying to make ends meet as a real estate agent. Eldest son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) is a 13-year-old with a stormy adolescence in front of him. And youngest son Sam (Kaden Rockett) is at an age when his imagination is starting to cause some concern, especially regarding his juvenile obsession with a night visitor he calls the Sandman.

As if an overdue mortgage wasn't problem enough, mysterious things start happening in the Barrett house. Most spectacularly, three different flocks of birds one day dive-bomb the house in what seems an inexplicable mass avian suicide. The kids have sleepwalking episodes. Then the adults do too, mixed with other unsettling symptoms such as nosebleeds and nightmares.

In that most common cinematic manifestation of suburban evil, the youngest son starts to draw disturbing images in crayon. The pictures depict visitations by dark, gangly figures who will come to be known as The Greys.

Eventually, J.K. Simmons shows up as presumed conspiracy nut Edwin Pollard to explain just what is happening to the family. If the overall film is kind of dumb, casting Simmons was especially smart. He is here to sell the film's most outlandish exposition, depicting a kind of bruised but unbowed stoicism in the face of presumptive madness.

But this subtlety eventually gives way to the usual mundane scares as the Barrett clan prepares for war against the film's extraterrestrial puppet-masters.

Perhaps the film goes wrong because it asks too much of us. Doubtless a few people believe in ghosts, demons and extraterrestrials. But even in the context of a hokey horror movie, it's a bit of a stretch to ask us to believe they all exist in the same package. Two stars

 

Side Effects

DIRECTOR Steven Soderbergh has claimed Side Effects will be his last theatrical feature film, which does not exactly qualify as leaving on a triumphant note.

Soderbergh, working from a script by Scott Z. Burns, delivers a murder mystery that strives to address the social ills that attend prescription pharmaceuticals.

This has the capacity to be a hot button movie playing on the all-too-pertinent link between violence and prescription meds. But Soderbergh seems to be gingerly avoiding head-on confrontation. Instead, he dispenses a more mundane thriller of the type that might have appealed to a late-career Brian De Palma.

Here, the featured depressive is Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a young woman who should be happier about her impending reunion with her hunky husband Martin (Channing Tatum), finishing up a four-year prison term for insider trading.

Instead, she plunges into a depression that becomes serious when she steers her car into a parkade wall.

Her attending psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), is apparently sincere in his desire to help Emily, but he has an unfortunate penchant for being fast on the draw with his prescription pad. At her request, he prescribes an anti-depressant for her. It turns out that one of the drug Ablixa's side-effects is: May cause violent death to anyone in the patient's vicinity.

The heat is now on the good doctor to prove he wasn't lax in his patient care. The screws start to tighten further when he finds himself in conflict with Emily's previous doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a shrink femme fatale whose previously friendly consultations take a turn for the toxic.

Soderbergh's penchant for bouncing his way through different genres serves him well, since the film effortlessly transforms midway from medical drama to mystery-thriller with deft cunning.

Mara (the U.S. version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) has a proven talent for portraying a placid surface masking stormy turmoil. Yet the film is altogether too subtle in its portrayal an over-medicated society where people exchange prescription med advice the way housewives used to trade recipes.

Eventually, we're asked to invest in Banks and his struggle to regain his normal life. But one is hard pressed to care somehow.

As with Ablixa, this film may leave viewers feeling comfortably numb. Three stars

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2013 C6

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