‘Side Effects’ serves as thrilling capper to adventurous career for director Soderbergh

Possible side effects of watching “Side Effects” include increased brain activity, confusion, occasional irritability and warm, fuzzy feelings about Jude Law.

“Side Effects” is not intended for use by children or people suffering from short attention spans.

If you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours, keep it to yourself, weirdo.

Interestingly, for a movie based on the hidden dangers of pharmaceuticals, it turns out the less you know about “Side Effects” — director Steven Soderbergh’s big-screen swan song — the better.

Emily Taylor (a haunted-looking Rooney Mara) had every luxury money could buy — until her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), went to prison for insider trading and her perfect world was pulled out from under her.

After four years of hardship, his release should have put a little color in her cheeks. Instead, she slips back into the sort of overwhelming hopelessness that first accompanied his arrest.

Following a botched attempt to harm herself, Emily comes under the care of Jonathan Banks (Law), a sympathetic psychiatrist who begins treating her with antidepressants that make her nauseous and kill her sex drive.

But when a friend recommends the new drug Ablixa, which she convinces Banks to prescribe, Emily’s entire life is transformed, down to her spectacularly resurgent sex drive. “Whoever makes this drug,” Martin marvels after a particularly vigorous bout of bed rattling, “is going to be (expletive) rich.”

Given the benefits, Emily is reluctant to stop taking Ablixa, even when she starts sleepwalking. And sleepcooking. And sleepcommitting felonies.

But all, as they say, is not what it seems.

What looks on the surface to be a “Contagion”-style, nouveau-horror tale — it is, after all, from that film’s creative team of Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns — or a scathing indictment of today’s there’s-a-pill-for-everything culture turns out to be a more intimate, noirish treat.

It’s the type of sophisticated, adult thriller Hollywood doesn’t traffic in much these days. The sort of thing that, 20 years ago, would have been much glossier and toplined by Demi Moore and Michael Douglas.

Instead, Douglas’ wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, turns up, channeling Anne Archer as Emily’s Ablixa-pushing former psychiatrist.

With the tragic turn in Emily’s treatment, Banks’ life begins unraveling as he becomes consumed with making sense of what happened. It serves as a reminder of just how talented Law is — and how unfortunate it was that, once Oscar host Chris Rock skewered him for being in too many movies, his career took the opposite route.

At the very least, “Side Effects” proves that if this film thing doesn’t work out, Law has a solid future as a crime-solving psychiatrist on a CBS procedural. Cast Loretta Devine as a sassy secretary, call it “Head Cases,” and you’re already halfway to syndication.

Soderbergh could even direct it, as he swears “Side Effects” is his last theatrical movie. (His Liberace biopic, “Behind the Candelabra,” is headed for HBO later this year.)

If the eclectic filmmaker keeps his word, it will leave a sizable void in theaters. What other director would — or could — turn out movies as diverse as the “Ocean’s” trilogy, “Traffic” and “sex, lies, and videotape ” while putting his faith in unproven talents ranging from Tatum to mixed martial arts fighter (and former Las Vegan) Gina Carano to porn star Sasha Grey?

Even when “Side Effects” isn’t twisting and turning in on itself, his direction keeps viewers on their toes — especially during some of the more exposition-heavy moments.

Soderbergh’s involvement may even make the whole thing seem smarter than it really is. When all the mysteries are finally revealed, for instance, not everything matches up with what we’ve been shown.

“Side Effects” won’t be remembered as his finest work. Maybe not even in his top five. But if nothing else, the movie’s high-wire antics make for a respectable end to an adventurous career.

At least until he rediscovers his passion for films.

Hopefully there’s a pill for that.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at
clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

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