A review of  Novocaine” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for nudity, language, gore

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

 

 

A sharp, unsettling black comedy about dentistry is long overdue. As is a comic hit for underrated funnyman Steve Martin.

It’s “Heathers” meets “Marathon Man” (ouch).  Dr. Frank Sangster (Martin) has the ideal life.  A lucrative dental practice, a capable, blond dental hygienist (Laura Dern as Jean Noble), and a vigorously satisfying sex life (after hours with Noble).  Frank’s life is so perfect that he can’t shake the feeling that it’s just an illusion.

Enter Frank’s deadbeat brother Harlan (Elias Koteas), who shows up unannounced to raid Frank’s professional drug supply.  At the same time, a mysterious new patient by the name of Susan Ivy (Helena Bonham Carter) appears in his chair in need of a root canal and a truckload of pain killers.  Thinking with his privates instead of his brain, Frank offers the provocative Ivy a heady prescription and an appointment for the next morning. 

Bad move, Frank.  Turns out Harlan and Susan are in cahoots – scamming the doctor to score a stash of drugs.  From 0 to 60, Frank’s life goes from perfection to rock bottom.  Murder, drugs and illicit sex, not to mention trouble with the police, the DEA, and a pissed-off fiancé are part and parcel of Frank’s newly unpredictable existence. Helplessly drawn (and hopelessly attracted) to the vortex, Frank must begin the arduous process of proving his innocence.

Writer/director (and dentist’s son) David Atkins does a delightful job  of capturing the quirky side of the antiseptic world of oral-hygiene, engaging the viewer with mischievously macabre storytelling and quippy dialogue. A few well-placed twists keep the guessing game fresh.   The high energy level is a little difficult to maintain, and the pace slows in spots. Martin is excellent as the ultimate control freak whose life spins crazily out of kilter, and Dern exhibits poise and polish as a sexy, confident Jackette-of-all-trades. Bonham Carter is strangely unappealing as the wanton junkie seductress.  It’s been a long, dry spell without a smart, meaty black comedy.  Wallow in it.