Film Review: Black comedy brings out the darkness in Steve Martin

“”Novocaine”” has something for everyone: sex, drugs, murder and Steve Martin. Take your pick, this film covers every base.

Co-starring Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Kaan and a cameo role by Kevin Bacon, the credits for “”Novocaine”” could have read: List of actors unlikely to ever join each other on screen. An unlikely cast was all too necessary for this indie film that places itself in the crime/ mystery/ thriller/ drama category.

Visually, the film presents the viewer with stark scenes of death set to the narration of the seemingly normal dentist Frank Sangster (Martin). Sangster’s life philosophy is spelled out as he narrates the story of his own descent from the perfect life that he unconsciously never wanted. The realization of his true desires comes to life with the appearance of Susan Ivy (Helena Carter). The movie’s tag line, “”Crime is not only done by criminals,”” along with Sangster’s central belief, “”The worst thing a man can lose in life are his teeth,”” give some idea of what this film is all about.

There are probably only about five minutes in the entire film when Martin is not on screen. This grows somewhat tiresome for all but the biggest of Martin fans. A more intricate sub-plot to draw the viewer away from the world of Steve Martin could have complemented the film.

The film seems to have a definite turning point where it turns from comedic to extremely dark. It is possible for someone to love the first half of the film and hate the later half. A more gradual progression from comedic to macabre could have helped.

Carter plays essentially the same character she played in “”Fight Club,”” and tones of that entire film run throughout “”Novocaine.”” If Martin had played Edward Norton’s “”Fight Club”” role, the two films would have been inappropriately similar.

The film suffers most severely from trying to do too much. Trying to fit more appropriately into one genre would have done the movie better than its attempt to provide something for everyone. It could have survived as a comedy or as a dark film, but in trying to impersonate both, the film leaves the viewer muddled.

Everyone on the screen gives enjoyable performances, but that does not save the film from seeming unfocused.

What the film does offer is an interesting Freudian look at the simple desires of a simple man. Sangster’s dentist-twisted look on his own life provides some of the film’s best lines.

Though watching “”Novocaine”” wasn’t as painful as pulling teeth, it did leave my cavities of enjoyment unfilled.

3 stars

in theaters Nov. 16

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