There's a good little thriller lurking somewhere in the depths of "Unknown," but it never quite rises to the surface.
First-time director Simon Brand and first-time writer Matthew Waynee have concocted a contrived yet initially promising premise that borrows elements of "Memento," "Reservoir Dogs," "The Usual Suspects" and even "Saw." They then let it devolve into a cacophonous stew of anguished profanity that's more aggravating than believable. That's a problem when you've got a dream cast of indie-film veterans whose talents go sorely underused.
The movie opens with five unidentified and traumatized men (Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Joe Pantoliano and Jeremy Sisto) waking up in a locked warehouse amidst evidence of wrongdoing, with no memory of why they're there or even who they are. An accidental leak of toxic gas explains their collective amnesia, and additional clues indicate they're all involved in a kidnapping scheme, but nobody knows his role in the crime. All they know is that one of them might be a kidnapped tycoon. Tempers immediately (and rather excessively) begin to flare.
Outside of this junky industrial prison, the cops are closing in on the gang who plotted the ransom scheme, using a woman involved in the kidnapping (Bridget Moynahan) as a decoy. As the gang leader (Peter Stormare) plans a final rendezvous at the warehouse, the five captives assemble fragments of their slowly returning memories, and all hell is about to break loose.
This is obviously the stuff of B-movie potboilers, and Brand reveals his music-video background with frenetic cutting and camerawork, drawing attention to the movie's flimsy logic and jacked-up intensity that's too forced to be convincing. The gifted cast struggles to mine substance from their undeveloped roles, which consist primarily of yelling at each other in a paranoid haze.
Surprisingly, "Unknown" slightly improves as it lurches ahead from vagueness to clarity. As an economical thriller, it's got enough twists (credible or not) to keep you involved, even though the entire movie is an artificial exercise in absurdity.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com