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Frank Sangster (Steve Martin) is a happy and successful man: he runs a thriving dental practice and is engaged to be married to his devoted colleague, dental hygienist Jean Noble (Laura Dern). But his life is thrown into disarray by a new patient, the sexy and unscrupulous Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham-Carter). In a short space of time, Susan has managed to seduce Frank, while setting him up as the target for a narcotics robbery masterminded by her brother. Forced to lie about his actions to both Jean and the police, Frank becomes increasingly embroiled in a seedy underworld of crime and drugs. 

Review by Jake Wilson:
More than anything, Novocaine seems like a film that has missed its moment. By now, haven’t audiences grown tired of this kind of low-budget, self-consciously quirky thriller? With its deadpan mix of whimsy and bloody violence, the film suggests the Coen brothers without the wit and pyrotechnics - much less the buried soulfulness of The Man Who Wasn’t There.

The tongue-in-cheek approach is defined by the novelty casting of Steve Martin, a performer who holds himself at a remove from any given scenario, as if ‘straight’ acting were the biggest joke of all. Martin might seem ideal to play a sleek professional with a secret yen for anarchy: outwardly placid and handsome ‘in a Dad-like way,' he’s an effective match for the childlike petulance of Helena Bonham-Carter (basically reprising her tough-girl character from Fight Club).

But he never seems vulnerable or desperate enough to be a convincing film noir fall guy: even when Frank’s world is meant to be collapsing around him, Martin appears dapper, light on his feet, two steps ahead of the game. His unruffled poise eliminates any real suspense, allowing occasional digressions into farce and even outright slapstick (as with Frank‘s absurdly easy escape from the police station). Stylistically, first-time writer-director David Atkins keeps things simple, relying mainly on his actors and his convoluted plot: the look of the film is cool and restrained, taking its cues from the surgical blue-green decor of Frank’s dental practice.

Flamboyant visual touches are confined mainly to transitions between scenes - flash-pans, wipes, brief X-ray glimpses of the characters’ bone structure. The reason for this last device becomes clear once we reach the comically gruesome climax - easily the most memorable scene in the film, though not recommended to viewers who already suffer from fear of dentists.

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CAST: Steve Martin, Helena Bonham-Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan, Kevin Bacon

PRODUCER: Paul Mones, Daniel Rosenberg

DIRECTOR: David Atkins

SCRIPT: David Atkins, Paul Felopulos


EDITOR: Melody London

MUSIC: Steve Bartek, Danny Elfman (theme)


RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 11, 2002 (Melbourne; other states to follow)

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: August 28, 2002

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