So what is Steven Soderbergh’s next-to-last directing job (or so he says) about? Pills! Thrills! Bellyaches! The trailer for Side Effects may cause confusion and anxiety (call your doctor), but it won’t actually explain what the movie’s about. It’s clear that Jude Law plays a psychiatrist, and Rooney Mara his patient, and Channing Tatum her beau. Mara’s character gets a pill that makes everything better, but then it makes everything worse, and then … shock cuts and out-of-context dialogue! Did the pills kill someone? Did Mara kill someone? Is Jude Law responsible? Is Catherine Zeta-Jones the bad guy? Does Channing Tatum take off his shirt? It’s all a mystery to me.
Side Effects was written by Scott Z. Burns, who worked with Soderbergh on Really Fascinating Film that Gets Better With Age The Informant! and Worthwhile Divertissement Contagion. Side Effects doesn’t seem to have the cavalcade-of-stars cast or sprawling storyline of Contagion, which is too bad—on hearing that Soderbergh was making a movie about drug companies, I had sort of hoped he’d shoot a legal-drugs version of Traffic, exploring the ramifications of medications and drug research around the world. But the general banality of Side Effects’ trailer also suggests this movie isn’t as tricky or surprising as The Informant! was.
In the best case, Side Effects might be another Michael Clayton, the Soderbergh-produced Tony Gilroy movie that used genetic crop modification as a launching pad for a thriller circling around a haunted, conflicted character. Is Jude Law’s psychiatrist the Michael Clayton (George Clooney) of Side Effects? I guess that would make Catherine Zeta-Jones the Tilda Swinton and Rooney Mara the Tom Wilkinson. (Channing Tatum is just big, lovable Channing Tatum, no matter how sleek or suspenseful the film.)
Worst-case scenario? Given how unexciting this trailer is, I’m a little worried that Steven Soderbergh’s last movie for theaters will be his first Uninteresting Failure. Luckily, he’s got 24 previous movies that suggest this won’t be the case.