Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The modern fad for pastiche is becoming annoying. Think of a movie genre, copy it, add a few insider jokes and nudge-nudge references - the more obscure the better - and you're set up as the new Quentin Tarantino.

It doesn't have to be like that. What makes Novocaine so refreshing is that it looks like a Forties murder mystery pastiche, with a narrative voice-over, as in the Raymond Chandler flicks, but keeps being different, avoiding those classic cliche moments, so ripe for ridicule, in favour of surprise and innovation.

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The plot has a beautiful twist to it, in fact many. Just when you think you feel safe in a here-comes-the-hard-nosed-cop-with-goofy-sidekick moment, Kevin Bacon appears as a famous movie star accompaning the detective "for research purposes" and asking all the right questions. Joy buds like this are bursting all over.

Steve Martin is a dentist, who makes a mistake. "The nature of attraction," he explains, "is that you find yourself doing things and you have no idea why." The mistake is Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham Carter). She comes to the surgery for an emergency root canal, seduces the doc, steals drugs off him and leaves her scarlet knickers behind. The doc's fiancee (Laura Dern) is a highly organised and deeply practical woman. She's also his orthodontic nurse. There is no way she isn't going to find out about this.

The story is a series of cover-ups - "One small lie and everything unravels from there" - that lead deeper and deeper into uncharted territory, such as murder and motels. Writer/director David Atkins avoids repeating the style of Martin's early work, such as The Man With Two Brains, and letting his anarchic humour loose. The script is tight, the gags nurtured, the performances disciplined. Only Elias Koteas, as the dentist's brother, feels out of place. He's a waster and a drunk, which is fine, but somehow his character does not add up in the scheme of things - a small quibble of little consequence in a movie of genuine originality.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2002
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Steve Martin is a dentist who discovers that illicit sex leads to murder,
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Director: David Atkins

Writer: David Atkins

Starring: Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan, Keith David

Year: 2001

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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