Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw
Rating: R
Running time: 105 minutes
Score: 6/10

At this point in his prolific, 24-year career, Steven Soderbergh has earned the right to do what he wants. But who could've predicted that he'd go full Joe Eszterhas with his latest, a nod to the sleazy thrillers of the 1990s?

Last year, Soderbergh fashioned his very own Flashdance/Showgirls hybrid with the male stripper dramedy Magic Mike; now it's time for his Basic Instinct/Sliver moment. With the twisty, elegantly tawdry Side Effects, the Academy Award-winning director drops all pretension for a convoluted, macabre, and altogether messy exercise in postmodern noir. It's as indebted to Alfred Hitchcock as it is to Eszterhas, meaning, despite its numerous flaws, it's impressive tension-filled entertainment.

Rooney Mara—in a calculated performance that's equal parts demented, endearing, and cunning—plays Emily, the depressed wife of an ex-con (Channing Tatum, the recent Leonardo Dicaprio to Soderbergh's Martin Scorsese) and unfortunate recipient of a new anti-downer called Ablixa. Recommended by Dr. Jonathan Banks (a vibrant, commanding Jude Law), her shrink, the pills breed undesired results, and it doesn't take long for Emily's already fractured psyche to break into tinier pieces. Soon her old doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) comes calling to tell Banks that there's more to the situation than possibly faulty narcotics.

Bodies drop, backs are stabbed, and protagonists go from cute to cold as Side Effects zooms on nervy adrenaline before devolving into the kind of seedy, adult pulp that Sharon Stone and her best revealing dresses would've been ideal for back in the '90s. The reveals don't all convince—a couple of them, in fact, aren't the least bit unforeseeable. Nonetheless, Side Effects benefits from Soderbergh's ever-present calling cards: perfectly framed shots, dreamy cinematography, and brisk pacing. There's a distinct classiness to his brand of sleaze that, like it or not, is irresistible.

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Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)


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