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Novocaine (2001) starstarstar

Reviewed 2002-09-02
: Steve Martin is a very funny fellow, even when he's a straight man, successful Chicago dentist Frank Sangster. His practice is doing well. His fiancée, Jean Noble (an over-the-top Laura Dern) is clean and perfect. and it all doesn't start to unravel even when his no-good brother Harlan (Elias Koteas, who I last saw in Collateral Damage) shows up. No, Frank's perfect world starts to come undone when a sexy new patient, Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham Carter, doing a good American accent), seduces him in the dentist's chair (Frank's fantasy) and then steals his prescriptions drugs. As Frank says in voice-over, "Lying is like tooth decay, rotting from within."

But there's more to Susan than a drug habit -- she also has a brother habit. Duane (Scott Caan), is a feisty, vertically challenged hothead who controls Susan. Soon Frank's infidelity is discovered, his brother turns up dead, as does the prime suspect in that murder, and he is on the run from the law. The only one he has left to turn to is... Susan. The mixture of film noir and comedy almost always works. Martin (straight as an arrow) and Carter (darkly sexy and funny) get on quite well: "That's the nature of attraction," says Frank, "you find yourself doing things and you don't understand why." I wasn't quite sure if the two scenes from uncredited Kevin Bacon made any sense: he played an actor researching a cop role, so the detective lets him question Frank as a suspect. He's surprisingly unnerving, too.

The one part in Novocaine I found more unsettling than unnerving was Martin's self-dentistry. If you were squeamish about going to the dentist after seeing the most famous scene from Marathon Man, this scene should keep you out for good. Aside from that, and a few predictable plot twists, the writing (by first-time director David Atkins with Paul Felopulos) is consistently crisp and the acting consistently bright. The only unanswered question is why men are attracted to a slutty woman over a squeaky clean one. Unless, of course, she's Helena Bonham Carter!

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.