Novocaine (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner07/05/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 95 mins

Steve Martin’s best film for Quite Some Time – it’s not perfect, but there are enough gags and inventive moments to compensate for its flaws.

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember a time when Steve Martin was officially The Funniest Man Alive. It’s time to face facts. Those ‘wild and crazy guy’ days are gone. He’ll never make anything as funny as The Man With Two Brains, or as clever as Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid again.

Instead, he’s taken to turning in surprisingly good straight performances, such as his subtly menacing turn in The Spanish Prisoner. Be thankful, then, for Novocaine, because although the manic craziness is reigned in, it’s still his best film in Quite Some Time, particularly if you’re a fan of film noir movies.

Extra-curricular drillings

Martin plays Frank Sangster, a dentist engaged to his fiancée, Laura Dern. However, his life is thrown into turmoil when the time-honoured femme fatale walks through his door in the shape of Helena Bonham Carter’s sexy Susan Ivey (an amusing parody of her Fight Club character). In no time at all he’s giving her extra-curricular ‘drillings’ and suddenly finds himself in a whole heap of trouble when boatloads of drugs go missing from the medicine cabinets. And then the bodies start piling up.

Novocaine (the name of an American anaesthetic drug) is stylish and inventive – writer/director David Atkins clearly has a lot of affection for the 1940s film noir thrillers, as indicated by Martin’s deadpan voiceover. There are also some neat visual touches, such as the inclusion of flash-frame dental X-rays in the opening credits.

Untapped comic gifts

The acting is superb - Martin hits just the right note as the bewildered dentist slowly sucked into a situation beyond his control and Bonham Carter vamps it up for all she's worth, clearly enjoying herself in the process. It's Laura Dern who's the real surprise, though, revealing previously untapped comic gifts and turning in the best performance of the film.

The film isn't without flaws - not all the gags work and sometimes the comic tone sits uneasily with the nastier moments (dental-phobes be warned), but there's enough here to make it worth your while. There's also A Major Hollywood star in a hilarious, uncredited extended cameo that is worthy of that clichéd phrase 'worth the price of admission alone'.

In short, Novocaine isn't quite as thrilling or as funny as it would like to be, but the combination of a witty script, great performances and some inventively dark moments mean that it's better than, well, a trip to the dentist. Recommended.

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Content updated: 14/12/2017 20:55

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