It's a dark and stormy night in the Nevada desert; ten strangers take refuge in a sleazy old motel run by a very weird young man (John Hawkes). There's a has-been actress (Rebecca DeMornay) in a limousine driven by John Cusack. There's the State Trooper Ray Liotta bringing a prisoner (Jake Busey) to Carson City. There's hooker Amanda Peet, on her way to Florida; there's a family of three with the mother injured; and there's the young newlywed couple.
There's also an intercut story of a midnight hearing on a state prisoner's sanity, just 12 hours before he's scheduled to be executed. Will we find out how these two stories relate? You bet. But first, we will see that - as someone points out - this is kind of like Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None," because one by one these ten people are picked off by, well, someone unknown. Who is that person?
"Identity" is very good fun; deliciously scary, with endless rain and lightning flashes, slamming doors, deep shadows, corpses, lots of screams, unexpected discoveries of gruesome things, and the strange identity that's hinted at in the film's trailer (everyone seems to have the same birthday). Cusack and Peet are particularly good, with Hawkes turning in a Bates Motel-worthy performance. The film was written by Michael Cooney and directed by James Mangold ("CopLand," "Girl, Interrupted," "Kate and Leopold"), who shows a very secure sense of how to turn the screws on an audience.
But what should we do with the interpolated plot? I won't give it away out of obligation to my critic's rulebook, but when we learn the secret of how the two parts of the film actually meet we are only disappointed at Cooney's bizarre solution. It just trivializes the whole schema of the film, and along with it our willing suspension of disbelief. I for one had happily gone along with everything that happened at the motel, and expected that the solution would lie within it somehow. I wish that Cooney had found a way to conclude the story without going to a devil ex-machina. Still, four-fifths of a good entertainment is better than none at all.