I must shamefully admit that “The I Inside” got me. Using my prodigious movie IQ, which is really quite enormous (just go with it), I thought I had figured out everything there was to figure out about German Roland Suso Richter’s movie. Time travel, I thought. It’s another time travel movie about some guy trying to change the past, who encounters snags along the way. Shockingly, the film turned out to be a Mind Trip movie (known in vulgar corners as Mind F–k), one of those films where nothing is what it seems, and the entire film is basically a run-up to the movie’s Big Reveal. The best Mind Trip movies manage to leave clues here and there for the audience to try to figure out, but of course they won’t be able to, simply because a Mind Trip film wouldn’t work if it could be figured out. As such, when the Big Reveal comes, it’s a major surprise to everyone but the filmmaker. “The I Inside” is such a movie.
Ryan Phillippe (known nowadays as Mr. Reese Witherspoon) is Simon Cable, a car accident victim who wakes up in a hospital with no memories of the last two years. He’s told by good-humored Doctor Newman (Stephen Rea) that he actually died for two minutes after the accident, before coming back to life on the operating table. Simon soon learns that he’s married to cold fish Anna (Piper Perabo), but is really in love with Clair (Sarah Polley, “Dawn of the Dead”). If losing his memory wasn’t bad enough, Simon starts to shift back and forth between time — two years, to be exact. He is reliving his experiences at the same hospital in the past and the present, but why, and what does all of it have to do with the death of his brother Peter?
One would be justified in pointing an accusing finger at the script by Michael Cooney (who also penned the Mind Trip film “Identity”) and Timothy Bogart for conning the audience. Up until its Third Act, the film gives the impression of being a time travel movie, where actions in the past affects the present, and the gimmick is for the hero to bounce back and forth in time trying to get his bearings to right a wrong, using his knowledge of the two timelines to make his move. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to play up the time travel angle, only to pull a, “Gotcha! We were just kidding!” on the audience. The moment the script shows its true colors, everything we’ve just seen for the past 70 or so minutes goes out the window. As such, you would almost be forgiven for hating the movie for such blatant trickery.
The film starts out well, mostly because Ryan Phillippe does an admirable job portraying the confused Simon. Phillippe has been a favorite actor of mine ever since he tried to kill half of Mexico with the assistance of Benicio Del Toro in the crime caper “Way of the Gun”. Phillippe is more Everyman here, trying desperately to put pieces of a screwed up puzzle together. Less successful is Perabo and Polley, playing Phillippe’s scheming wife and his demure lover, respectively. Polley in particular looks sickly, as if she hadn’t eaten a thing in days during the entire production. Perabo is slightly more successful, and looks very enticing in tight black leather. The scene where Perabo’s meek nurse turns devilish is quite good.
Director Roland Richter brings some nice technical pizzazz with him over from Germany, and the film looks and feels expensive without drawing attention to itself. It’s in the Big Reveal that Richter doesn’t quite earn his paycheck, as the film basically crawls through its payoff, offering little pacing and managing to generate almost no excitement. When all the secrets are revealed, you’d expect a little energy or exhilaration; not so here, as the whole thing comes by way of exposition, and has all the “pop” of a funeral march. Which, I suppose, might be the appropriate atmosphere, considering what the revelation entails. Then again, after running through hoops just to get here, the least Richter and company could do was make the whole thing exciting.
Viewers shouldn’t bother trying to guess “The I Inside”, as it’s simply impossible to do so. As with other Mind Trip movies (Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” comes to mind), there are no coherent hints dropped into the movie for the audience to rightly guess the ultimate outcome. Oh sure, all those mysterious faces and seemingly different incarnations of random people are eventually explained, but it’s not like anyone watching the film cold could ever, in a million lifetimes, figure out where all the puzzles go the first time around. But I suppose that’s the whole point of Mind Trip films, as it’s not about being fair with the audience, but rather about getting one over on the audience.
To be fair, there have been many movies that have taken the same road that “The I Inside” did, but for some reason I find “Inside’s” use of the time travel angle to be somewhat insidious. Perhaps it’s just my ego talking, as the movie did pulled a switch-and-bait on me and I never saw it coming, but there is something to be said about a movie that tries to play fair. In fact, I’m not sure if “The I Inside” wouldn’t have worked better as a trippy time travel movie, as the film’s first 70 minutes are it’s most engaging and fun. Then again, I’ve always been a sucker for time travel movies.
Despite an irritating “gotcha” Third Act that offers little satisfaction, there are 70 minutes of “The I Inside” that is recommended. As such, it earns a 3-star rating, if only because it delivers solid fun while the time travel narrative was in effect. Too bad the movie kept going beyond those 70 minutes.
Roland Suso Richter (director) / Michael Cooney, Timothy Scott Bogart (screenplay)
CAST: Ryan Phillippe …. Simon Cable
Sarah Polley …. Clair
Piper Perabo …. Anna
Stephen Rea …. Doctor Newman
Robert Sean Leonard …. Peter Cable