Movie Review: ‘Side Effects’

Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in Side Effects

Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in 'Side Effects' - Photo © Open Road Films

Reviewed by Ian Forbes

HAHAHAHAHA. After watching Side Effects I decided to watch the trailer to make sure of what elements I could talk about since I don’t like to spoil things the studio didn’t already reveal in a trailer. Well, I’m a little bummed I can’t reveal perhaps my favorite cinematic moment of 2013 (not for its filmmaking but because it unintentionally made me laugh) but I can laugh my patootie off at how misleading the trailer is. From the context of the scenes, to the character dynamics, to how hilarious it is to make it seem like one of the named actors is prominently featured after the 45-minute mark, it’s all a bunch of marketing hooey.

The movie is supposed to be a thriller with twists and turns the audience won’t see coming. Of course, that only works when you’re watching the movie … if you’re not watching the movie. From the opening scene, we’re given the clues to what should be the most shocking element, completely deflating the potential of that pivotal moment. Not to be outdone, pretty much every other reveal is heavy-handedly foreshadowed or tipped off. If this is what audiences consider surprising these days, I shudder to think how they would react to something like The Usual Suspects, Memento, or Fight Club. At least there, the clues make sense upon the second viewing but don’t obviously tip you off on the first glance.

Here, it’s like Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (who worked together on the all-too convenient Contagion) were up late one night watching movies on Cinemax or Showtime during some marathon of 1990s thrillers and thought it’d be fun to try one of those. It’s a shame they didn’t realize that what made films of that ilk at least interesting was the potential for things to go awry. Here, it’s simply a matter of waiting for the film to tie things up the way test audiences would like it best.

As for the filmmaking of this, it’s clear Soderbergh is meticulous in his execution of shot choices and puts a lot of thought into how he’s going to present the image. Of course, that’s just window dressing for a story that falls as flat as the pacing, which felt near glacial at times.

I’d like to give credit to the performances but overall they were just okay. Rooney Mara has the propensity to appear unpredictable but is undercut by the script. Jude Law makes sure to enunciate all his lines as he normally does but fails to present the kind of desperation and fear one needs from a role like his. Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to be on the verge of playing her character with the shrewdness it deserves but often falls victim to overplaying her hand. And Channing Tatum … umm … well … he’s Channing Tatum. To be fair though, he too is hamstrung by a script more interested in attempting cleverness than developing its characters.


I suppose after all of those glowing remarks, you’d think I’d be recommending this film to everyone, right? Yeah, not so much. Side Effects had the potential to do a lot more but fell victim to conventionality in a movie where that word should be shunned at all costs. If this were on at three in the morning and insomnia was keeping you up, feel free to give it a watch. Spending money to see something you can get for free on nearly any cable movie channel almost any night of the week just doesn’t seem like the smartest plan to me.

GRADE: C-

Side Effects hits theaters on February 8, 2013 and is rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language.

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Ian Forbes

Member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, writing film reviews since 2005. Curmudgeon and lover of Susanne Bier films. Sadly, unlike Candyman, saying my name three times in a mirror does not result in my sudden appearance. However, you'll likely find me wherever a movie is severely melancholy.

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