WARNING: Watching the movie "Side Effects" may cause drowsiness, a blurred sense of reality, explosive confusion and a slight tingling in the logic center of your brain.
This alert is necessary because the new thriller from director Steven Soderbergh requires so many coincidences, chance meetings, ignored signals and plot oversights that the surprise ending is not that surprising and the story to get there is as illegible as a doctor's handwriting.
This story wants to be a complicated game of cat and louse, but it never finds the right rhythm for playing out the mystery. It's well-acted and beautifully shot, but the story is so vacant the film ends up being little more than a cinematic placebo.
It's difficult to talk about "Side Effects" without giving away clues to the central secret. What can be said is that noted psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) begins seeing a patient, Emily (Rooney Mara), who has suicidal tendencies. His treatment includes several different drugs -- each with its own multiple side effects. One of the side effects results in a very deadly situation.
A major event brings Banks' competence into question. He turns to Emily's former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), for help in dealing with the fallout of his actions. It's at this point where Banks realizes that, just like a Rorschach Test, something can look one way but can have a completely different meaning to others.
Here's where any discussion of plot must end. Don't worry, you'll pick up the big shocker without any help.
Soderbergh has created a movie that's rich in design but is painfully slow in pacing. From an incredibly long opening shot of a building to the unraveling of the mystery, there's no sense of urgency. A key ingredient of a thriller is the tension that comes when it looks like the world is spinning out of control. This film plods along in such a fog, there's plenty of time to think ahead on where the story (by Scott Burns) is going and that takes away the anxiety.
Law turns in an interesting performance as the denounced doctor and Mara uses just enough ambiguity in her performance to keep the mystery alive as long as possible. Zeta-Jones is miscast because she never manages to play the role as the enigma it needs to be.
"Side Effects" is less of a thriller and more of a cautionary tale of how there are real dangers that come in this pharmaceutical age we're living in. That's a tale better told through a documentary. If you see this movie, take the time to watch two Hitchcock films and call your movie doctor in the morning.
"Side Effects," rated R for language, violence, nudity. Stars Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rooney Mara. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Grade: C Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.