Monday, February 11, 2013

Side Effects

The protean director Steven Soderbergh, whose "sex, lies, and videotape" snuck the Palme D'Or out from under Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" at Cannes in 1987 (earning him a permanent soft spot in my heart), has in the subsequent quarter-century given us terrific films as disparate as "King of the Hill," "Out of Sight," "Traffic," and "Ocean's Eleven." For his self-labeled swan song, though, he's chosen a convoluted and supremely silly thriller that, with its one-car crashes, lesbian therapists, and involuntary institutionalizations, ends up bordering on camp.

"Dragon Tattoo" girl Rooney Mara plays the bummed-out wife of Channing Tatum (!), whose prison term for insider trading expires as the movie opens. The first 45 minutes play like found footage from a director's cut of "Contagion," Soderbergh's 2011 worldwide-pandemic misfire, with lots of hushed voices and sinister mumbo-jumbo about the side effects of experimental antidepressants. Jude Law plays the well-meaning and professional psychiatrist who takes her on as a patient after she intentionally drives her car into a wall in her office's parking structure. (I was vaguely reminded of the plot of the 1988 Rob Lowe bomb "Masquerade," in which Lowe planned to murder Meg Tilly by driving his car into a tree while only he wore a seat belt.) Catherine Zeta-Jones is the shrink Mara saw while she and Tatum were still living the high life in Greenwich.

But this is not an issue movie about the dangers of drugs brought to market too early - and I suppose we can be grateful for that. It is, however, an increasingly outlandish potboiler in which characters' motivations and personalities U-turn on a dime. Plot twists alternate between the ridiculous and those you see coming for miles. Soderbergh has made a lot of fun movies, but even if you appreciate the structure of "Side Effects'" storyline, you'd be hard-pressed to enjoy yourself even for a minute.

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