Steven Soderbergh's latest (and, he says, last) film, Side Effects, is a throwback to those twisty-turny, sex-and-murder-and-business melodramas of the late 1980s. It begins with a bloody crime scene at a New York apartment, and flashes back to show its residents — emotionally fragile Emily (Rooney Mara) and her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), just released from prison for insider trading. Emily suffers a breakdown, is treated by a kind but ambitious psychiatrist (Jude Law), and winds up on a new wonder drug recommended by her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones). As soon as you can say, "may cause confusion," the story starts enjoyably slipping and sliding through truths, lies, backstories and devious intentions.
Just as Soderbergh's 2012 film, the male-stripper romp Magic Mike, ever-so-slightly flirted with larger issues like the economic downturn, so too does Side Effects lightly tap current concerns about psycho-pharmaceuticals and how they're deployed and marketed. (This is a thriller that rewards those who sit through all those mystifying TV ads for drugs that make clouds go away.) And, if like me, you're sentimental for Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and their many imitators, this film should make an excellent diversion for a cold February night: pretty people with ugly insides, and a popcorn-friendly loop-de-loop plot.