on November 16, 2001 by Kevin Courrier
   "Novocaine" is the kind of comic noir that freezes your responses. First-time director David Atkins simply glues together his connect-the-dots script without accounting for the specific nuances that make for good thrillers. Not only isn't there a gleam of sense or an inspired sense of menace anywhere in the picture, there's also no hint of spontaneity. Atkins nails everything down so that the plot fits together like a neatly laid out jigsaw puzzle.

   Frank Sangster (Steve Martin) is a successful dentist who's engaged to leggy blonde Jean (Laura Dern), who also happens to be the office hygienist. One day, Susan (Helena Bonham Carter), a punkish brunette, comes to his office complaining of a toothache and in need of a root canal. Prescribing drugs to ease her pain, Frank finds he has a sexual ache of his own. As Frank gets caught up in a whirlwind of sexual desire, Susan's hothead brother, Duane (Scott Caan), and Frank's own brother, Harlan (Elias Koteas), create carnage in his perfect life.

   Steve Martin, who can be a peppy and inventive actor, is so subdued here that we don't really comprehend the depths of his discontent. Furthermore, given the choice between the boisterous Laura Dern and the dowager Helena Bonham Carter (who looks like she just walked off the set of "Fight Club"), there's no contest. One doesn't believe for a moment Frank's mounting desire for this delinquent patient.

   Only Scott Caan as a loose cannon and Kevin Bacon, in a hilarious cameo as an actor studying police work for a part he's playing, give "Novocaine" any real kick or distinction.    Starring Steve Martin, Laura Dern, Helena Bonham Carter, Elias Koteas and Scott Caan. Directed and written by David Atkins. Produced by Paul Mones and Daniel M. Rosenberg. An Artisan release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for violence, sexuality, language and drug content. Running time: 100 min.

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