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February 10, 2013

'Side Effects' a weak farewell from Soderbergh

There’s a great turning point in “Side Effects” that, without revealing any specifics, shifts the story into full gear. It’s a welcome turning point, because up until this very distinct moment in Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical film release, I was underwhelmed by how one of our most interesting contemporary directors chose to say farewell to the game.

Yes, “Side Effects” starts off slowly. Stay with it though: The film picks up the pace, transforming into a pill-popping murder mystery with clever twists and turns. I sensed the genius Soderbergh winking and waving goodbye in most every frame.

And still, as the great director’s swan song, “Side Effects” is lacking. It’s hardly a bad film; in fact I recommend it. After the brilliant one-two punch of “Haywire” and “Magic Mike” last year, however, the impact of “Side Effects” lingers only slightly. It’s not phoned in, but it doesn’t resemble anything extraordinary, either.

Simply put, it’s a simple, hackneyed story-line with many engaging moments that Soderbergh salvages with his unique eye. His direction always keeps it interesting, like a free-form jazz artist lacing notes together. In Soderbergh’s case, however, it’s film shots laced together on a cinematic canvas.

The movie is enhanced by superb acting by Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones. But the screenplay by Soderbergh’s “Contagion” collaborator, Scott Z. Burns, leaves much to be desired. Winding through the motions with some shocking moments, Burns crafts a story that’s almost too clever for its own good.

“Contagion” haunted me the entire train ride home after I first viewed it. “Side Effects” stuck with me only momentarily.

The film is a solid effort from a true talent, his final one at that. And while he doesn’t go out as strongly as he would if, say, “Magic Mike” had been his final film, Soderbergh gives “Side Effects” everything he’s got.

It’s a goodbye that could have been expressed more eloquently, but it’s not like there are any hard feelings.

To Steven Soderbergh: Thanks for a great run.

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