‘Side Effects’: the final Steven Soderbergh film?

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Like Jean-Luc Godard in his 1960s peak years, Steven Soderbergh has appeared to be in a race over the past decade to see how many films he could make before the financiers catch up with him.

Since the turn of the century, the Oscar-winning filmmaker has made 18 feature films, including three released since last spring.

The haste and hyper-activity would seem to contradict Soderbergh’s threat to retire from directing when he hit 50, but in a recent (and long) New York Magazine interview the creator of “Traffic” and “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Erin Brockovich” said he is sticking to his plan (the filmmaker turned 50 on Jan. 14). Judging by the final (for now) Soderbergh picture, “Side Effects,” the director could use a break.

The would-be thriller has been bombing in theaters since it opened a few weeks ago and for good reason — it’s a lame, wannabe Hitchcock movie that wastes some major acting talent on a flat and unconvincing story about a depressed young woman who is given a variety of anti-depressants that don’t appear to help her. Scripted by Scott Z. Burns, “Side Effects” plays like a Brian DePalma shocker without the humor — a serious and dull “Dressed to Kill.”

The “twists” in the second half are so unsurprising that I’m tempted to discuss them here — you can see where the character of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is going from her first failed suicide attempt. And anyone who pays attention to the billing in the advertisements and in the opening credits will not be surprised by the film’s biggest “shock” moment.

I’ve never been one to complain about movies without “likeable” characters but the crew in “Side Effects” is really hard to care about. Rooney Mara plays Emily in too creepy a manner to work up any concern for her mental condition.

The real protagonist in the movie is not Emily but her pill-dispensing psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who seems to be asking for trouble in his handling of the young woman and his promiscuous use of the latest prescription drugs.

When Dr. Banks gets into an ethical bind and his wife, his friends and his associates start backing away from him, we can’t really blame them.

Jude Law has displayed ample charisma elsewhere, but he’s on emotional lockdown in this role and I couldn’t have cared less what happened to his character (it’s too bad Soderbergh didn’t have his two male stars swap roles, with Law as Emily’s Wall Street embezzler husband and Channing Tatum as the distraught doctor — I think the film might have worked better with that casting).

If Soderbergh’s threat turns out to be true, it’s too bad he didn’t stop with last summer’s funny and lively “Magic Mike.”

Joe Meyers

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