I suppose imitation, as the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, then 2003's "The I Inside" is flattery, indeed, as it comes very close to ripping off films like "Memento," "Mulholland Drive," "Donnie Darko," "The Butterfly Effect," and even "The Bourne Identity." Not that that's such a bad thing.
But the movie does not entirely succeed, in spite of or perhaps because of its many twists and turns. I couldn't help wondering, too, if there weren't an excessive number of cooks in the kitchen for this one. It was directed by German filmmaker Roland Suso Richter from a script by Timothy Scott Bogart ("Extreme Ops") and Michael Cooney ("Identity," "Jack Frost 1 and 2," "Murder in Mind"), from Cooney's play, "Point of Death." So far, so good. But then I noticed it was backed by five different production companies, including Dimension Films and Miramax, and produced by ten (yikes, ten!) different line producers, regular producers, and executive producers. By the time it was finished, it was picked up by eight different distribution companies worldwide, and it made its American debut on TV! It seems a rather ignoble end for so much work. But, then, ignoble endings are what this film is all about, so maybe it's fitting.
Here's the deal: A man wakes up in a hospital. His name is Simon Cable (Ryan Phillipe), he's about twenty-eight years old, he's the son of a rich man who died and left him and his brother a fortune, and he can't remember anything about the last two years of his life.
His doctor, Newman (Stephen Rea), tells him he "died for two minutes." His heart stopped beating, but he came back; he survived.
Then all hell breaks loose. He starts seeing, or imagining, different things--like two women who may both be his wife. Like someone who may have tried to murder him. Like thinking he may have killed his own brother.
He begins flitting back and forth through time, discovering that he was admitted to the same hospital two years earlier after an automobile accident, and that he could be seeing visions or experiencing realities of the previous visit. The events of the two visits are discomforting for him (and for us) and throw his mind for a loop. Neither the character nor the audience knows for sure where he will be in the next moment, like when he steps through a door or opens his eyes. Everything he experiences--past, present, and possibly future--seems to be in the here and now.
The characters are well acted in the story but hardly well drawn. Like the persons of a dream, they are shadowy, cardboard cutouts: Anna (Piper Perabo), the wife Cable can't remember marrying; Clair (Sarah Polley), the other woman in his life he can't recall; Peter (Robert Sean Leonard), his brother, with whom he may or may not have been in conflict before...before whatever happened to him; and Mr. Travitt (Stephen Lang), a cynical hospital-patient roommate who seems to occupy all of his visions.
The doctor tells Simon that in order for him to regain his memory, he must put the pieces of the puzzle together, which, of course, is what we as the audience must do as we watch the various seemingly disparate segments of the plot unfold. But the doctor also tells him, "There's only one inescapable rule in the game of life; sooner or later, everyone has to stop playing." Ominous news, to be sure.
Considering that Simon's mind becomes a maze, a tangled skein of memory he must unravel, the plot is actually not too hard to follow, once we get used to the idea of all the flashbacks and flash-forwards. Still, as with all such nonlinear storytelling, the question is whether the story itself would be of any interest if it were told as a traditional narrative. The answer here is no.
So the movie is basically all style, and it is the out-of-joint scheme of things that intrigues us, not the characters or the plot. But when only the puzzle is of interest, it needs a big payoff, and this one has no such payoff. In this regard, I found my reaction similar to the one I experienced watching M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," except that in the case of Shyamalan's movie the characters were far more compelling. With "The I Inside" we get only one-dimensional characters, and we never get the big finish we're expecting. Instead, we get one of those left-field endings that on the one hand is too weird and far-out, and on the other hand is too obvious, too facile, and too frustratingly conventional to satisfy.
Expect the usual spiral staircases, unusual camera angles, swirling photography, suspicious personages, appearing, disappearing, and re-appearing characters, and eerie music. If that's enough for you, the movie might hold your interest for ninety-odd minutes. But I'm not guaranteeing you're going to go away pleased.
"The I Inside" is rated R for reasons that completely escaped me.
The movie is generously presented in something approaching a theatrical exhibition size of 2.35:1, if the movie had ever been presented in this country theatrically. I have no idea how it was eventually shown on TV, but the dimensions on the disc measure approximately 2.13:1, anamorphic, across my standard-screen Sony HD television. The bit rate is average, but the colors are fairly bright (often too bright) and solid, if a tad dark on occasion as well. Skin tones often lean toward the orangish. There is good but not perfect object delineation, some slight glassiness, and a very light grain present at all times.
The sound is processed via Dolby Digital 5.1. I know this because the keep case says so, and my DVD player's readout concurs. But judging by my ears, it could just as well be plain old DD 2.0 stereo. There is not much in the way of surround information except for a few voices and some small musical ambiance reinforcement. Where the audio excels, however, is in low-end reproduction, which is quite deep and strong, providing some room-rattling bass and a couple of solid thumps. Otherwise, the front-channel sound stage is fairly ordinary, as is the dynamic range. Dialogue is rendered clearly, and backgrounds are reasonably quiet.
I'm sorry. You were asking about extras? Well, there are thirteen scene selections and a paper insert to remind us of them. And there are English and Spanish language choices, with French subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired. And there are...uh...well.... OK, I confess; there aren't any extras.
"The I Inside" is a well-produced little thriller that relies almost entirely on its storytelling angle to survive and then lets us down at the finish. While the story probably would have been more attractive with better fleshed out characters and seems rather empty without them, I doubt that even that would have helped much. The movie appears to have carved out a niche for itself that it couldn't possibly fill without a stronger ending. And even with a better ending, a lot of viewers would probably accuse the film of being all gimmick and no substance. You can't win for losing sometimes; so let it be with "The I Inside."
I mentioned earlier that screenwriter Michael Cooney had also written "Identity." That's the one to watch. Or "Memento," if you've never seen it.