There's nothing wrong with Novocaine that a few more hits of laughing gas wouldn't correct. Starring Steve Martin as a dentist who's ready for a walk on the wild side, this orthodontic take on film noir harks back to '80s comedies like After Hours and Something Wild ' films in which an ordinary schlub finds himself trapped in a nightmare he doesn't entirely want to escape. Like it or not, dentists have a reputation for being among the most ordinary schlubs on the face of the earth, and Martin's Frank might spend the rest of his days filling cavities were it not for the appearance of Susan (Helena Bonham Carter), a drug addict in dire need of both a root canal and the subsequent painkillers. Frank resists Susan's charms at first. Then she suggests doing it "in the chair," an activity long denied Frank by his dental hygienist and fiancÃe, Jean (Laura Dern, in a performance that combines wittiness, nuttiness and a fearsome bite). Before he knows it, Frank's up to his molars in blood.
This is writer/director David Atkins' feature debut, and there's perhaps a little too much film-school bravado ' an elaborate tracking shot through Frank's office, for example. But he does some very nice work with X-rays, which seem to expose the characters' innermost desires. And he milks his premise (dentist as noir sap) for all it's worth. The dialogue lacks the class and sass of vintage noir, and Martin's deadpan narration is redundant, at best. But there are still some glints of gold in the movie's crooked smile.
I only wish Martin had been allowed to uncork the comedy he's based his whole career on. When he lets his face go slack, the juice seeps right out of him. As the femme fatale, Carter reprises the grunge that got her through Fight Club, and Kevin Bacon has a hilarious bit as an actor learning how to play a cop at Frank's expense. But it's Dern, as a woman who's had perfect teeth so long she'd like to go after Frank's with a pair of pliers, who gives Novocaine the antic, frantic tone it needs.