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David Atkins
Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Scott Caan
David Atkins

Crime Is Not Only Done By Criminals.
Box Office:
Budget $6 million.
Opening weekend $418,098 on 105 screens.
Domestic gross $2.025 million.
Rated R for violence, sexuality, language and drug content.

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
English, Spanish

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 4/23/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director David Atkins
• “Getting the Shot - the Making of Novocaine
• “Bitten” - An Exploration Into Forensic Dentistry
• Deleted Scenes
• “Music of Novocaine
• Production Notes
• Cast Filmographies
• Theatrical Trailers
• Trailer Gallery


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Novocaine (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Has any actor played more different dentists than Steve Martin? At the very least, he’s done so three times to date. Interesting, the first two were musicals in which Martin had small roles. He acted as Dr. Maxwell Edison in 1978’s legendarily bad Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and he appeared as another nasty dentist in 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors.

For his latest oral-oriented character, Martin at least breaks the string of evil singing dentists. In 2001’s Novocaine, he portrays Dr. Frank Sangster, a successful orthodontist with a sexy fiancée named Jean (Laura Dern) who also works in his office. However, his life seems somewhat staid, so when a sexy bad girl named Susan (Helena Bonham Carter) enters his office for a root canal, he starts to entertain new fantasies.

She seems happy to encourage those, and when she arrives very late for her appointment - she says she thought the 7:30 AM slot was supposed to be 7:30 PM - the two quickly enact a fantasy of Frank’s: to do it in the big chair! Unfortunately, Frank pays for his pleasure, as the next morning it becomes clear Susan stole scads of drugs from the office.

Still smitten with her, Frank covers up the crime with one of the many lies that helps seal his fate. From there, the noose tightens more and more as the film continues. In addition to Frank’s female concerns, a couple of guys make matters rough for him. His ne’er-do-well brother Harlan (Elias Koteas) shows up and creates problems, and Frank also encounters Susan’s psychotically over-protective brother Duane (Scott Caan).

Various acts of violence ensue, and Frank quickly finds himself the prime suspect in a murder investigation. The more he tries to extricate himself from events, the more involved he becomes, largely because of his continued obsession with Susan. The film displays the methods he uses to fix matters, and all of the problems that occur.

Novocaine offers a 21st century take on film noir. All of that genre’s classic elements appear, from Frank’s narration to the femme fatale. However, it also features semi-wacky bits that we expect from movies in this era. The flick lacks his wordiness, but it goes for a perversely zany quality at times as it overplays some real-life activities.

So the film seemed moderately different - but was it interesting? Yeah, to a moderate degree. The movie offered enough intrigue to keep me going, but I must admit I never thought it caught fire or lived up to its potential. The story seemed to shoot for more than it got. It wanted to be really creative and unusual, but it succeeded only sporadically.

The cast helped make it interesting, though the supporting actors offered the most entertaining work. Carter showed the right level of scuzzy charm as Susan, and Dern clearly enjoyed the cartoony anal tone of Jean. Caan seemed nicely nuts as well, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Keith David’s funny turn as a star-obsessed cop with an actor at his arm. The latter character - played in a cameo by an uncredited performer I’ll leave unnamed - offered some of the movie’s most entertaining moments, and his interaction with David was a genuine highlight of the piece.

Novocaine lacked a lot of such bits, and it generally seemed a little draggy and lackluster. Still, at least it tried to be something different, and I did find it to be fairly watchable and involving much of the time. Ultimately I’d classify it as a decent but unspectacular piece of work.

Trivia note: Frank visits Susan at the Golden Slumbers Motel. If this isn’t a tip toward Martin’s role in Sgt. Pepper’s, I’ll eat a bug. No, Martin didn’t do that particular Beatles tune, but it does come from the same album as “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. It feels like more than a coincidence to me!

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

Novocaine appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a few small issues, overall the picture seemed positive.

Sharpness consistently looked solid. The movie remained nicely detailed and accurate at all times. I saw no signs of softness or fuzziness, as the image seemed crisp and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects also presented no concerns, and I detected no evidence of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, some light grain appeared at times, and I also noticed a few examples of grit and speckles. However, these were modest and presented no real issues.

Colors offered a strong aspect of Novocaine. The movie featured a surprisingly broad palette, and the DVD showed these tones with solid clarity and accuracy. The hues looked tight and vibrant, without noise, bleeding or other problems. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was clear and appropriately thick. In the end, Novocaine lost a few points for print defects, but it still offered a good image.

Even better was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Novocaine. I didn’t expect a lot of auditory action from this kind of flick, but the mix offered a lively affair. The soundfield seemed surprisingly active as it presented solid ambience from all five channels. The front speakers featured good stereo presence from the music, and effects came across as accurately placed and neatly blended. The surrounds kicked in with quite a lot of useful material. Settings like bars and bowling alleys popped to life nicely, and split surround usage seemed good, with clear and realistic panning from side to side and rear to front. While it won’t dazzle you, the soundfield appeared very well defined and involving.

Audio quality also seemed strong. Dialogue sounded distinct and natural, and I discerned no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility. Music appeared consistently rich and dynamic. The score boasted solid clarity and featured deep and rich bass response. Effects also came across with fine accuracy and realism. Those elements showed clean highs and packed a nice low-end punch. Overall, I thought Novocaine offered a very fine auditory experience.

This DVD release of Novocaine also provides a nice roster of supplements. First we find an audio commentary from director David Atkins. He gives us a running, screen-specific track that seems moderately above average. On the negative side, Atkins periodically does little more than praise the participants and describe the obvious. However, he also offers some good notes about the making of the film. Atkins goes over a mix of interesting technical details, and he also talks about improvisation, other changes made to the original plan, working with the cast, and a mix of other elements. Overall, I don’t think this is a stellar commentary, but it seems reasonably entertaining and informative.

Next we locate two featurettes. Of the two, Bitten is the most interesting. The nine-minute and 25 second program mixes some movie clips with interview comments from some real-life forensic dentists. We hear from Dr. Michael Bowers, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg, Dr. Duane Spencer, and Dr. Norman Sperber. Oddly, the show itself fails to include their first names; I had to watch the credits to fully identify the men.

While not a deep exploration of the field, “Bitten” offers a decent look at forensic dentistry. We get some basics about the job and a few mentions of some famous cases on which the doctors worked. They also discuss the possible reality of the movie’s dentistry. It lacks much detail, but “Bitten” provides a reasonably compelling introduction to the topic.

It definitely tops Getting the Shot, a bland eight-minute and 25-second “making of” piece, It features the standard compilation of shots from the set, movie snippets and interviews with principals. We hear from director Atkins, producers Paul Mones and Dan Rosenberg, and actors Steve Martin, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Helena Bonham Carter, and Scott Caan. A few decent behind the scenes images appear and Martin fires a funny line, but otherwise this is typical promotional material; we learn about the characters, the story, and how great the director is, and that’s that.

More useful are the DVD’s five Deleted Scenes. These run between 40 seconds and three minutes, five seconds for a total of seven minutes worth of material. The longest expands the relationship between Frank and Harlan, while the others are mostly quirky bits such as one that shows a jailed Frank with some odd inmates. The final snippet is really an outtake, not a deleted scene. In any case, the clips seem fairly interesting and merit a look.

Within the Music of Novocaine area, we find audio snippets of six songs from the film. These excerpts don’t replace an isolated score, but they’re a nice addition nonetheless.

Novocaine tosses in a lot of promotional bits. We find two trailers for the film itself as well as a Sneak Peek area. It offers ads for Dr. T and the Women, Good Advice, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Twin Peaks and the Rambo trilogy boxed set.

Finally, some text materials complete the package. We get some brief but reasonably interesting Production Notes as well as a Cast and Crew area. The latter includes filmographies and decent biographies for director Atkins, producers Paul Mones and Daniel M. Rosenberg, executive producer Michele Weisler, theme composer Danny Elfman, editor Melody London and director of photography Vilko Filac, plus actors Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Keith David, Elias Koteas, Lynne Thigpen and Scott Caan.

While it doesn’t fully accomplish its goals, Novocaine provides a fairly provocative experience nonetheless. It gives us a quirky version of a film noir and offers enough wit and spark to merit a viewing. The DVD features very good picture and sound plus a decent roster of extras. It won’t be for everyone, but those who like unconventional semi-comedic thrillers, might find this one to be up their alley.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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