WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Frank Sangster is a reputable dentist with a successful practice, a doting fiancée and fairly dull existence. All of that is promptly demolished when Dr. Sangster unwisely starts an affair with a mysterious new patient. Almost overnight, Frank must now contend with a dead body, a suspicious girlfriend, and a handful of inquisitive cops while trying to clear his good name.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Those expecting a manic “Steve Martin” schtick may end up a bit disappointed, but Novocaine works surprisingly well as an arcane little mystery and a dark farce. You may logically expect some of Martin’s trademark comedy, but the film is by no means a goofball comedy. The pockets of humor found within are of a decidedly “darker” nature, and Novocaine may prove a bit unsettling to those not prepared for a comic mystery with a nasty streak. First-time director David Atkins shows a surprisingly adept touch behind the camera, and moves the film along at an entertaining clip. There’s a clever correlation between Sangster’s descent into duplicity and the insidious way a tooth becomes rotten from the inside, and on a level of pure whodunit entertainment, Novocaine succeeds quite well.
There may not be any shocks on a level of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, but the requisite twists & turns are handled with stylish aplomb. Steve Martin handles the lead role with a workmanlike charm, but one gets the impression that he’s a bit miscast. (Steve Martin ranks among my all-time favorite living actors, but it’s obvious that he’s a bit out his element here.) Helena Bonham Carter is (as always) deliciously seedy as the conniving Ivy, and Scott Caan has a few frantically amusing bits as her vile criminal of a brother. Laura Dern steals the show as Frank’s eerily even-tempered sweetheart, while people like Kevin Bacon and Elias Koteas pop in and offer a few colorful scene-stealing moments.
Writer/director David Atkins is on hand to deliver a scene-specific audio commentary. As is often the case with solo commentaries, this one’s an informative but rather dull affair. Perhaps a cast member or two would have livened things up a bit, but fans of the film will undoubtedly find this track worth a listen. There are two short featurettes, each running just under ten minutes: Bitten is a brief yet fascinating glimpse into the world of forensic dentistry, and Getting the Shot is a more traditional “making of” piece. The Music of Novocaine is a short promo piece that highlights the film’s soundtrack, and you’ll also find a collection of 5 deleted scenes, production notes, theatrical trailers and some previews for upcoming Artisan releases.
Novocaine is far from a classic mystery, but it’s a quirky, dark and enjoyably askew little curiosity. Fans of Steve Martin will enjoy seeing their hero in a different light, and the movie holds a few nasty surprises.