Reviewed May 12th, 2002 by Dan Jones
Novocaine has long been on my list of films I wanted to see on DVD that I didn’t get a chance to in the theaters. I must say I didn’t know much about the film, other then that I assumed it was a dark comedy about a dentist played by Steve Martin. Having been a long-time fan of Martin I had relatively high expectations of the film. Walking away now after viewing, I must say that while the film did not meet my expectations, it did leave me somewhat entertained.
First off, Novocaine is not the dark comedy I thought it would be. Moreover, this is not a dark comedy at all; furthermore you would be hard pressed to even find a comedy driven scene in the movie, not what I expected from a film starring Steve Martin. I guess I would have to describe Novocaine as a type of film noir, or as just a generally dark film. This one is rated R kids.
Novocaine has a relatively simple plot catalyst; that quickly falls into completely unpredictability, which is both good and bad. Starting it off we have Steve Martin’s character Frank Sangster, the completely by the book dentist in his own practice, and his fiancé, whom also works with him, Jean Noble, played by Laura Dern. One day Frank meets up with his newest patient, Susan Ivy, played by Helena Bonham Carter. Frank, going against his best judgment, ends up writing Susan a prescription for drugs he shouldn’t be giving out; Susan then modifies the script to get a higher quantity of pills. From here we see that Susan’s clearly a druggy. She then ends up seducing Frank (although it doesn’t take much) into having sex with her. Frank does not seem to mind.
Of course, this does not go well. Frank ends up getting his entire stash of drugs stolen out of his offices, the DEA comes sniffing down his back due to the fact that a teenager drove a car off a cliff with a bottle of narcotics with Frank’s name on it, and all hell breaks lose.
Probably the best part of Novocaine is its unpredictability. You really do not know what is going to happen next, other then that Frank consistently makes bad choices. The acting is strong throughout, with Martin, Dern, and Carter all putting in solid performances. Nevertheless, I did feel disappointed by the film; it really had nothing that made me say “wow,” or nothing that had a great impact of any sort. I had issues with the ending, but I don’t know of an ending that really would have satisfied me; it’s just kind of like a movie that exists in the time you’re viewing it, but has no goal to really get anywhere.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Novocaine is a mixed bag as far as transfer quality. The source is clearly in good shape with no real blemishes, grain, or scratches to speak of; also there were no real compression problems. However I did notice an abundance of ghosting throughout the film (images appearing faintly to the side of the actual image), mostly from over saturated whites bleeding into the blacks and background. A bit annoying at times, especially in highly lit scenes.
Audio wise, Novocaine has been given a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and a 2.0 Dolby Surround track. The 5.1 track is quite good considering the film it is presenting. Novocaine’s score dominates most of the rear channels, but effects are passed to the back on a number of occasions, all adding a nice enveloping effect. The LFE is used, if only sporadically, but adds some nice oomph when needed. For the most part voices are nice and detailed, with only the occasional low volume.
For extras, Artisan has done a nice job of supplementing the film. First off we have an audio commentary with Novocaine’s director David Atkins. This is a very technical commentary that is more focused on the film’s production then the film’s story, providing little insight into the characters or plot. If you’re looking to become a director in the future, give it a listen.
Next we have a somewhat disturbing featurette entitled “Bitten” which delves into the use of dentistry for forensic evaluation. Quite interesting; perhaps the most interesting featurette on the disc. Next we have a somewhat behind the scenes featurette called “Getting the Shot.” More then anything else this gives us a chance to hear from the actors/actresses on the film, and is a nice, somewhat short bit.
Continuing along we have five deleted/altered/blooper scenes from the film. None of these are really interesting, leaving no surprise to their cut, but we do get too see some amusing Steve Martin clips.
Rounding it out we have “The Music of Novocaine” which allows us to hear samples from the soundtrack, two theatrical trailers (one R rated), and production notes and filmographies.
Novocaine is not a bad film in any light. I was entertained and I would say I enjoyed most of it. It’s just not a memorable film, nor one I would be watching again anytime soon. The acting is solid; the plot is unpredictable, but the story just lacks any real depth or importance. Overall Artisan has provided us with a solid DVD presentation with a good deal of extras, as well as strong audio and video. If you like Steve Martin I would recommend picking up Novocaine; other then that, I would give it a rent.
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