2 stars (out of four)
In a chemical plant warehouse on loan from "Reservoir Dogs," five distraught men in various states of injury ask themselves the old Talking Heads question: How did I get here? The labored, minimal-thrills thriller "Unknown" starts from a claustrophobic set-up that's a little bit "Usual Suspects" and a little bit "Memento." In the early scenes the men played by Jim Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ"), Greg Kinnear ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Joe Pantoliano ("Memento"), Barry Pepper ("Flags of Our Fathers") and Chicago native Jeremy Sisto ("Six Feet Under") learn they're suffering from some sort of amnesia. They don't know their own identities, or who's allied with whom against whom.
Sketchy details involving an elaborate ransom and kidnapping scheme emerge, and all scummy roads lead back to the man in the snakeskin boots--the man director Simon Brand keeps cutting back to--played by Peter Stormare ("Fargo"), whose razor-thin beard is a thing of Mephistophelean beauty. That beard is the sharpest single element in "Unknown." While Brand manages a couple of effectively brutal bits of violence, Matthew Waynee's gassy screenplay is all premise and no propulsion. The shadows of other, better crime pictures intrude on every scene. Despite some first-rate character actors, the film never breaks out of its cage of familiarity.
Running time: 1:30. Opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St.; 773-509-4949. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for violence and language).Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times