Screen Reviews


Directed by David Atkins

Starring Steve Martin, Laura Dern, Helena Bonham Carter


We all hate going to the dentist, and this film is no exception. Frank Sanger (Steve Martin) runs a successful dental practice supported by his fianceé and hygienist (Laura Dern) and the ultra-efficient no-nonsense Pat (Lynne Thigpen). Life is hectic but uneventful until floozy Susan Ivey (Helena Bonham Carter) drops in for a root canal and to scam some Demerol. Although she looks like Cyndi Lauper on a bad hair day, he falls for her hard after some sex in the chair. Dental sex is a very specialized fantasy, as those chairs are slippery and not all that comfortable. He figures out her drug scam quickly enough, and spends the rest of the movie making bad decision after bad decision as he gets in trouble with the DEA, the local police, and Susan’s psycho brother Duane (Scott Caan). Who nicked all Dr. Frank’s painkillers? If not Susan, you might suspect his loser brother Harlan (Elias Koteas), but you’d only be part right. For some reason his fianceé wants the business, and is willing to kill anybody that stands in his way. “Why?” is a big question, as without Martin, there’s not all that much of a dental practice. Plus, she’s got the looks and attitude to be a trophy ex-wife in a few years. She’ll eventually own the business anyway, so what’s the hurry? It must be a hygienist thing, it’s happened to all my dentists so far.

Despite a story holding some nice plot twists and a solid crew acting the details, Novocaine still feels like chewing on tinfoil. Carter’s marginal sex appeal mystifies – as a realistic looking junkie, you might date her after five or ten beers, but dump her when the hangover kicked in. Still, Dr. Frank trades everything just to see her again, which is just as well, given Dern’s plots. He may be a great reconstructive orthodontist, but he needs a dope slap when it comes to dealing with dope addicts and the dope cops. There’s good supporting action from Caan and Koteas, and a cameo by Kevin Bacon as an actor studying police work for his next role, but none of this can overcome the painful plot. Add a good bit of gratuitous gore and several explicit extraction scenes, and I recommend a bottle of Nitrous oxide to get you through this session in the chair.

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