Picks and Pans Review: Novocaine
Open wide and prepare to laugh nervously. Novocaine is a comic thriller about the misadventures that befall a dentist when he's bamboozled by an attractive scam artist who poses as a patient. The film, the first by director-writer David Atkins, attempts to be both suspenseful and amusing, a tricky combination.
Mild-mannered and thoroughly conventional, Frank (Martin) is engaged to Jean (Dern), the hygienist at his successful suburban practice. He is content with his ho-hum life until vampy Susan (Bonham Carter) turns up in his patient's chair complaining of a toothache and asking for Demerol. When he hesitates, she asks, "Don't you ever break the rules?" Soon Frank is breaking 'em right and left, surreptitiously meeting Susan, lying to his fiancée and eventually trying to explain to detectives why Susan's lowlife brother (Caan) is lying dead on the floor of Frank's house.
Martin and Bonham Carter are both drill-sharp here, each creating a vivid character. Dern is less effective, turning her hygienist into a screeching clown. Novocaine is a promising first effort and never bores, but ultimately it lacks bite. Like a dentist who tells jokes while he has his fingers down your throat, it is often more amused by itself than we are. (R)
Bottom Line: Fails to hit a nerve