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`Unknown': The answer to plot questions

Five men without a memory aren't much help in solving crime.

November 10, 2006|Sam Adams | Special to The Times

Five men wake up in an abandoned chemical plant. Several have been beaten and one has been shot. One is in handcuffs, another tied to a chair. And none of them has any idea who he is or how he got there.

It's easy to see how "Unknown," the first feature for director Simon Brand and writer Matthew Waynee, got made: a clever premise, a single (read: cheap) location and a puzzle-box plot reminiscent of "Memento" and "Reservoir Dogs." What's harder to fathom is why such actors as Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and Joe Pantoliano signed on to a script that offers them little to do apart from barking expletives at each other.

The first to awaken from his mysterious sleep is Jim Caviezel (whose character is identified in the credits as "Jean Jacket"), who heads for the nearest bathroom mirror and screams at his reflection, "Who am I?" It is, unfortunately, a question "Unknown" never answers. The characters remain as blank as the placeholders in a child's brainteaser. (Hint: None of them turns out to be a goldfish.)

The movie's disinterest in character might be forgivable were its plot not riddled with holes. Did the mysterious chemical that erased the men's memories also dissolve their driver's licenses? What kind of newspaper prints a kidnapping story without pictures of the victims?

The movie also errs by cutting away from the chemical plant to follow the cat-and-mouse game between police and kidnapper. What could have been a sparse thriller with shades of Samuel Beckett devolves into a series of contrived switchbacks and clumsy manipulations. With no more sense of individuality than its brain-drained characters, "Unknown" can only ask, "Who am I?"



MPAA rating: Unrated

An IFC First Take release. Director Simon Brand. Screenplay Matthew Waynee. Producers Darby Parker, Rick Lashbrook, John S. Schwartz. Director of photography Steve Yedlin. Editors Paul Trejo, Luis Carballar. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

Exclusively at Landmark Westside Pavilion Cinemas, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A., (310) 281-8223

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