Getting to the root of the problem is like pulling teeth.
I hate going to the dentist, and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment. There's something about their tools—the drills, the picks, the syringes—that make my toes curl and hair stand on end. Maybe Hollywood's also afraid. If recollection serves me correctly, I can only think of two movies that revolved around dentistry: the sadistic drilling scene in Marathon Man and the B-grade horror movie The Dentist. We can now proudly add to this list the Steve Martin film noir-like thriller Novocaine. Also starring Laura Dern (Wild At Heart) and Helena Bonham Carter (Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes), Novocaine makes you squirm in your chair on DVD care of Artisan Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Frank Sangster (Martin) is a respected dentist who seems to have it all: his own practice, a loving fiancée (Dern), and a house filled with nice things. In Dr. Sangster's life, everything is going great…until his 7:30 appointment shows up. Suddenly Dr. Sangster's life is turned upside down when the sultry Susan Ivey (Bonham Carter) slinks into his office and asks for a prescription of Demerol for her tooth ache. What will follow is a series of events that will thrust Dr. Sangster into adulterous sex, illegal drugs, and ultimately murder. Let the pain begin!
I've been purposely cryptic with my plot description of Novocaine because this is a movie that needs to be seen with as little prior knowledge as possible. Novocaine is by all means a strange film. It's a black comedy, a thriller, a film noir, a romance—Novocaine incorporates many themes into its story to make for an exciting and weird film going experience…and it's all got to do with a dentist played by (!) Steve Martin.
Lately Martin seems to be going the way of Bill Murray—taking on parts that are offbeat and vastly different from his comedic fare of the past. I've seen a lot of Steve Martin movies, and aside of The Spanish Prisoner, Novocaine may be his biggest departure yet. The film requires him to be funny, but not in the slapstick-y way we're used to. His dialogue is humorous though it's much darker and stranger than his previous films. This is an interesting departure for Martin who fits the bill as a suburban dentist thrust into situations beyond his control.
It's been a while since I've seen a movie with as many twists and turns as Novocaine has. In a way, Novocaine is a gentler version of a David Fincher movie. I usually didn't know where it was going to take me, and the spaces it occupies are much darker than you'd expect. I'm not sure what I anticipated about this film, but whatever it was, it turned into something much more weird and fun. Helena Bonham Carter (playing a drug addict and LOOKING like a drug addict) is one of the strangest actresses working in Hollywood today. The same might be said for Laura Dern, though her role is much more anal and tidy than Carter's. Naaa…they're both equally as quirky.
That's all I'm going to say about Novocaine. I realize my critical analysis of the movie is short, but I think that will be for the best for those who haven't seen the movie yet. The critics weren't overly kind to Novocaine when it was released theatrically. I urge you to give it a chance on DVD—it may not be the perfect film, but it is very original and offbeat, which is always a good thing.
Novocaine is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Artisan has done a fantastic job of making sure that this picture looks relatively clear of any defects or imperfections. There was a small amount of edge enhancement in a few areas, though this is a very nice looking print that sports solid colors and well saturated black levels.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English. This is a well mixed audio track that utilizes most of its directional effects during moments of Steve Bartek and Danny Elfman's music score or in some of the whooshing scene changes featuring dental X-rays of the stars. While this isn't the most aggressive soundtrack ever created, it does work very well in the confines of the film. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English and Spanish.
Novocaine features a nice array of bonus materials for patients to drill through. Starting off the disc is a commentary track by David Atkins. I was pleasantly surprised at how low key this track was—instead of being wacky or entertaining, it's more informative and insightful. Atkins has a lot to say about his script and production, and the stories he tells (I especially liked his thoughts on being stuck in a car trunk for a long time) are worthwhile.
"Bitten: An Exploration into Forensic Dentistry" is the best feature on this disc, which takes a fairly in-depth look into the forensics of dentistry (i.e., identifying a body through their teeth). This really has nothing to do with the film (well it sort of does, in a roundabout way), instead leaning towards interviews with multiple forensic dentists, including one guy worked on the Jeffery Dahmer and Ted Bundy cases. The most fascinating of these stories is that of a man who killed someone and was convicted of murder because he left teeth marks in a roll of duct tape while binding the body! If you don't mind a little morbidity in your features, this one is for you. The second featurette, "Getting The Shot," is an eight-minute promotional look at the making of Novocaine featuring interviews with actors Steve Martin, Laura Dern, Elias Koteas, Helena Bonham Carter, Scott Caan, producer Dan Rosenberg, and director David Atkins. Unfortunately, this doesn't add a lot to one's knowledge of the production or story—it's all very quick and not that exciting.
Five non-anamorphic deleted scenes are featured and wouldn't have added a whole lot to the final cut of the film. One is an alternate ending, though it's not much different from the film's final cut. Finally there is a promotional screen sampler for the music of Novocaine, two trailers for the movie, production notes, some cast and crew information and a few bonus trailers for other Artisan DVDs.
I was surprised and happy to find Novocaine to be a different and wacky film going experience. The movie may not completely work as a mish-mash of concepts and themes, but it does entertain—and this time around that's all I was hoping for.
[Editor's Note: I want to head off the inevitable angry letters to Patrick and note that Steve Martin also played a dentist in the 1986 musical version of The Little Shop Of Horrors.]
Novocaine is free to go, though it's going to need a root canal…
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director David Atkins
Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.