In “Complete Unknown,” a woman adopts multiple identities in a mystery that explores the allure she finds in living a chameleon-like existence during an evening with a former boyfriend.
When the film opens, Alice (Rachel Weisz), under different names and guises, is seen as a hippie-ish traveler renting a room; an emergency room doctor; a magician’s assistant; watching a house from a car with Ohio license plates; and in bed with a man in what seems to be a one-night stand.
Next, Alice is a biologist working in Long Island with the first new species of frog to be discovered in North America in decades. She strikes up a conversation in a cafeteria with Clyde (Michael Chernus), who works at a government agency concerned with agricultural policy. Before long, he’s inviting her to a dinner party at the home of his colleague, the no-nonsense Tom (Michael Shannon), who’s celebrating his birthday, and wife Ramina (Azita Ghanizada), a jewelry designer.
Alice’s propensity for living places and vanishing without a trace becomes the subject of discussion among the dinner guests, but it doesn’t take long for her story to unravel. It takes even less time for Tom to recognize Alice as a former girlfriend named Jenny who walked out of his life 15 years earlier.
The former couple get reacquainted during a late-night excursion, which includes going into the home of an elderly couple, played by Danny Glover and Kathy Bates, as memories of what might have been bump up against Tom’s struggling marriage and Alice’s loneliness.
“Complete Unknown” is directed and co-written by Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace”), and takes its name, no doubt, from Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” The film’s premise has great potential, but unlike the rock classic, it hits its share of bad notes.
Alice’s nonthreatening character reduces the suspense her appearance in the dinner party could have stoked. So does revealing her past by mid-film. Alice’s platitudes about her need to change identities, i.e., “When everyone thinks they know who you are, you’re trapped,” or “There’s a moment when you’re a blank slate. It’s a high ...,” fall flat by unconvincing rationales and her obvious emptiness.
Alice and Tom also, critically, lack chemistry. It’s a problem compounded by obvious questions that aren’t asked, such as why Alice didn’t consider contacting Tom in some other way than showing up, stalker-like, at his home under a false name and identity.
That leaves the film with little more than Alice’s ruminations on her continual need to reinvent herself, and whether Tom and Alice will rekindle an old flame that has few sparks.
The missteps in “Complete Unknown” may be the film’s biggest unknown of all.
Title: “Complete Unknown”
Two Stars (out of 4)
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Michael Chernus, Azita Ghanizada, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover
Director: Joshua Marston
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: R for language.
The lowdown: A mysterious woman inserts herself back into the life of a former boyfriend.