The performers are good, especially Law, who, between this film and Anna Karenina, has started to fulfill the promise he showed as an actor before starring in a series of misfires. Just as surprising is Tatum, the star of Soderbergh's 2012 summer hit Magic Mike, who proves again that he has dramatic chops when working with the right director. Mara, best known for playing Lizbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, again plays a cipher, but a seemingly much more innocent type than Salander.

There are mysteries to Side Effects that shouldn’t be spoiled in a review, but readers should know that the plot twists take the film into areas that represent a sharp turn to the story. Any pleasure at being taken by surprise by the film is offset by the nature of the revelations. Not only is the content troubling, but Soderbergh doesn't commit, for better or worse, to the lurid, over-the-top style that would best suit the story's shocking turns. Instead, Side Effects borders on cool-and-clinical when it needs much more fire.

That approach has worked for Soderbergh on certain projects, but this story's change-ups leave him grasping for the right fit between form and content. The director’s films are, at their best, thought-provoking... when the style serves the story. With Side Effects, we wind up thinking too much about Soderbergh and his stylistic choices, and too little about the characters.

It all makes Side Effects at best a curiosity, at worst unhealthy. So, as former first lady Nancy Reagan once advocated, "just say no" to this drug story.

CAUTIONS

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; multiple uses of the 'f'-word
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Prescription drugs are central to the story
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing; we hear a couple having sex, then see them in bed from the shoulders up; a woman’s bare back and a man’s bare chest; a woman says she went shopping to make things more exciting for her man, then holds up what appears to be a Victoria’s Secret bag; a man removes his wife’s shirt; a woman’s bare breasts are shown; discussion of oral sex; same-sex kissing
  • Violence/Crime: Blood on the floor; a prison term is served for insider trading; a woman drives a car into a wall; a murder; a person is slapped, a person is struck with a purse; securities fraud
  • Religion: A Haitian man claims he saw the ghost of his father

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: February 8, 2013