Note: Plot spoilers ahead
You know something’s wrong with your film when the most interesting thing in it is a 20-second scene featuring Robert Sean Leonard. Especially when that film is supposed to be a thriller, written by Michael Cooney (who scripted the ingenious Identity ). So what happened to The I Inside? And does Leonard, star of Dead Poets Society (1989) and a Tony Award winner for Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, even know he deserves more?
Leonard appears here as Peter, dead brother of Simon (Ryan Phillippe), who wakes up one mysterious night in a hospital bed after a horrendous accident, only to be told that he died, too — but just for two minutes in the ER. Missing the two years after the accident, Simon is shocked to learn from Dr. Newman (Stephen Rea) that it’s 2002. Simon initially thinks he’s got a mild case of amnesia, something curable by therapy, but soon learns his problems are more extreme. Following a visit from Anna (Piper Perabo), the wife he doesn’t remember, Simon learns he was a loathsome backstabber and may have killed the brother whose girlfriend he’s been sleeping with.
In the time it takes him to have just these two conversations, Simon transforms from a nice guy in a bad situation into a treacherous jerk. His dark side, at this point, is confusing to him, which gives the film a decent kick start. Unfortunately, the scenario quickly loses its appeal. After Anna’s visit, the doctor sets Simon up for a CAT scan, but before the test begins, Simon freaks out at the appearance of a stranger who attempts to stick a needle in his arm. Before you can cover your mouth and cough “Jacob’s Ladder,” he wakes up in a different time, after a different accident, and Anna is suddenly just a hospital nurse he’s never met. Realizing (somehow) that he can shift between 2000 and 2002, Simon embarks on a race through his own past and present to save his brother’s life and set his own on a more righteous path.
This is mildly baffling, because the movie never makes clear just how Simon is able to slip about in his own head until its end, and by that time you’re already expecting the revelatory, yet entirely familiar, ending. The film’s twists and turns are also familiar, used most recently in Soul Survivors (2002) and, to a lesser extent, The Butterfly Effect (2004). The I Inside is almost a misguided blending of these already misguided films, leading at last to a Wizard of Oz-ish was-all-a-dream resolution. (At one point, Cooney even has Simon talking to himself as he tries to make sense of his situation — always a bad sign.)
Familiar as this plot may be, the characters needn’t be so unappealing. Identity‘s genius lay in its presentation as an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, rather than a mind-bending psychological thriller. The characters drove the ideas as much as the other way around. In The I Inside, on the other hand, the characters are so completely boring that the audience can’t help but jump ahead in the story, arriving at Simon’s conclusion long before he gets there himself.
Something about Leonard’s lack of screen time — about two minutes in all, with most spent in shadowed background — begs the question as to whether or not there’s more to the film than we’re seeing (the extras-less DVD offers no clues). Simon’s memory jigging is pointless, as we just don’t even know enough about him to care if his brother lives or dies.