Novocaine (2001)


(director/writer: David Atkins; screenwriters: based on a story by Paul Felopulos and Mr. Atkins;cinematographer: Vilko Filac; editor: Melody London; music: Steve Bartek with theme song by Danny Elfman; cast: Steve Martin (Dr. Frank Sangster), Laura Dern (Jean), Elias Koteas (Harlan Sangster), Helena Bonham Carter (Susan Ivey), Scott Caan (Duane), Kevin Bacon (Lance Phelps), Lynne Thigpen (Pat); Runtime: 95; Aristan Entertainment; 2001)

“This film was only a slightly better experience than getting a root canal.”


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A ridiculous premise and a foolhardy attempt at film noir, as the comedy is leaden and the story line is numbing. Writer-director David Atkins, who comes from a family of dentists, makes his directorial debut in this incoherent black comedy.

The film is set in the Chicago suburban dental office of the bland Dr. Frank Sangster (Steve Martin). He’s engaged to his efficient and attractive dental hygienist, Jean Noble (Dern). Frank is a serious dentist in love with his work, whose motto is “A man can lose his soul, he can lose his life. But the worst thing he can lose is his teeth.” That’s Martin’s funniest line and also serves to warn you how the film will end in decay.

The film opens as Frank’s going through his dental appointments when he gets a new patient, Susan Ivey (Carter), who will upset his entire life by doing the dirty with him in the dental chair. It’s determined she needs a root canal and makes arrangement for a 7:30 a.m. appointment tomorrow, but shows at 7:30 p.m. to do her thing in the chair. In the meantime the attractive patient talks Frank into giving her a prescription for Demerol, but the druggist calls to tell him she changed the prescription from 5 to 50 tablets. He chooses not to report her because she’s attractive.

Frank’s uncomplicated life now gets complicated with lies and it gets further complicated when his troublesome loser brother Harlan (Koteas) arrives unexpectedly and stays in his apartment.

The film moves awkwardly into its implausible setup, where Susan is a junkie sexpot who steals all Frank’s narcotic prescription drugs. When a DEA agent questions him about drugs with his names on the label found in a car crash, he doesn’t mention that Susan stole them. Instead he goes to her seedy motel and is told her psychopath loser brother Duane stole them from her. In another jarring scene, Duane comes to the dental office and in front of everyone warns Frank to stop screwing his sister.

Frank in narrating the story mentions that “Lying is like tooth decay.” When Duane is found dead in Frank’s office with the dentist’s teeth marks over his body, Frank realizes he’s been setup to take the rap.

Martin provided smirks but no comedy. The film relied heavily on continual plot twists, double crosses, and a gross ending. The tongue-in-cheek humor was agonizing, as I could have used some Novocaine to deaden the pain.

Kevin Bacon has a cameo as an actor researching his role as a detective in an upcoming film. He was the only character to illicit some laughs. Laura Dern played her compulsive-obsessive part with clenched teeth over fake smiles, her rigidity seemed appropriate for this uptight film. Helena Bonham Carter as the femme fatale looked as if she was in the wrong pic. Her sexual relationship with Martin lacked steam. This film was only a slightly better experience than getting a root canal.