When a movie’s main marketing tool is a bunch of shirtless pictures of Channing Tatum, it’s probably not going to be a very good film.
That said, there is more to any movie than a nice set of abs, and “Side Effects” has a plot with more twists and turns than Tatum’s six pack, which — spoiler alert — isn’t shown a single time in the movie.
The first scene is set with a slow zoom into an empty apartment. A model of a sailboat sits on an armchair. Bloody footprints stain the hallway.
The story flashes back to three months earlier. Emily (Rooney Mara) is battling depression, as her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison after a four-year sentence for insider trading. After a dramatic suicide attempt, she ends up in the psychiatric care of Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). With the advice of Emily’s former doctor (Catherine Zeta Jones), Banks prescribes Emily a new-on-the-market antidepressant, that has alarming side effects – and brings us back to the bloody apartment.
To this point, the movie is a poignant analysis of the torrent of over-medication in today’s culture. From this point, it turns into a convoluted mess that tries too hard to grasp some mix between stylish and cutting-edge, but only ends up teetering on arrogance.
Law shines through the tangled plot with a stellar performance, capturing at times both the persona of the caring doctor and the determined man who will stop at nothing to clear his name. However, as the plot gets too thick for one character to carry, Law fades from the clear protagonist to a murky middle ground.
Mara’s zombie-like portrayal of the drugged-out Emily is almost believable, with shining moments of raw emotion that she nails. However, Mara’s character becomes less tragic and more stale as the movie goes on.
My biggest problem with “Side Effects” is the marketing. From the trailers, the movie looked like it would be a psychosexual thriller, in the vein of “Black Swan” or “Basic Instinct.” Instead of being as sexy and provocative as it seemed, it’s nearly two hours of pharmaceutical jargon.
The true tragedy lies in the lack of topless Tatum. The top-billed actor has very little screen time – and for a movie that has banked on 2012’s Sexiest Man Alive to draw in crowds (just look at the movie’s Facebook page), this seems as much an injustice as the side effects themselves.