Synopsis: A woman turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband’s upcoming release from prison
Stars: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Length: 102 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: Lately, the side effects of a Steven Soderbergh film are usually indifference so it doesn’t come as a huge shock that Side Effects follows suit. In 2012 Oscar winning director Soderbergh released two vastly different pictures. The first was January’s Haywire, an action showcase for its star Gina Carano and I wound up liking it more than I probably should have. The second film was the wildly popular and wholly awful Magic Mike (it made my worst of the year list) which may have set tongues a-waggin but left me a-gaggin. Entering 2013, Soderbergh has delivered another peculiar puff of a movie featuring A-list stars in an agonizingly ordinary script.
Familiarity is the name of the game here with Soderbergh re-teaming with his Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for this iffy thriller with a plot ripped from any number of Law and Order episodes. Contagion was an interesting film that played well in the moment but disintegrated if you really sat down and thought about it. With Side Effects, no thinking is required. There’s nothing original here so your enjoyment of the movie is entirely dependent on how much you like the stars that pass through the glossy world filmed (under his usual pseudonym Peter Andrews) by Soderbergh himself.
Though Tatum receives high billing, he’s more of a supporting player in the story of a psychiatrist (Law) put through the wringer by one of his patients (Mara) as she deals with a depression that remerges when her husband (Tatum) is released from prison after serving time for insider trading. Yes friends, right off the bat we’re supposed to buy that Tatum is playing a character savvy enough to be a financial crook while living in a luxurious mansion in Greenwich. Don’t get me wrong, Tatum is a better actor than we all first believed but a high level business executive? I don’t think so.
Mara employs the same wild eyed chilly detachment which made her Oscar nominated turn as the title character in 2012’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so successful. Here, though, that same approach comes off as sleepy…maybe it’s the fact that her eyebrows have grown back. Though she has an interesting take on the character, she can’t really get to where she needs to be when the film requires it so she winds up as someone running after a train that’s taken off without her.
Ten years ago, Law may have played Tatum’s character but he’s an engaging centerpiece to the trivial plot twists the film employs. Law plays his role pretty close to the chest for the first hour or so until he must give way to the script and hop in line with his heretofore ethical character suddenly changing his tune. He’s married to a woman (Shaw, Hocus Pocus) that’s about as loyal as the day is long and soon he’s left to fend for himself against some increasingly unbelievable situations.
The best scenes are probably the scant few between Law and Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages) as a previous therapist of Mara’s character. The two actors crackle together and Zeta-Jones especially lets every dippy piece of dialogue coo out of her mouth with pleasure. I especially liked a brief moment outside of a restaurant when Zeta-Jones goes after Law with unusual rage…it’s the most real moment in the whole picture that’s beneath the talents of all involved.
If I’m being deliberately cagey about what kind of film Side Effects breaks down into it’s because even though the plot is beyond also-ran it still is entertaining in a strange way. It’s pretty much the perfect length and doesn’t overstay its welcome too much, although you may be tempted to glance at your watch occasionally. Soderbergh and co. keep things zipping along at a nice jaunt so even though you can see the finish line halfway through the race, you still are involved enough to stick with it.