I WONDER if the makers of Complete Unknown were as allured and intrigued by the movie’s central character, Alice (Rachel Weisz), as they expect us to be. Alice is a lazy screenplay’s idea of a deep, complicated, thoroughly interesting woman—she’s altered her identity multiple times, traveled around the world, changed her name, and taken up several new professions. But instead of being a thickly woven tapestry of experience and complexity, Alice is a blank slate, a nothing of a person. Alice is a dud.
So’s Complete Unknown. Its premise—which contains some amount of promise and mystery—is dead on arrival, because it’s so far outside the realm of possibility as to be laughable. Among her many lives, Alice has been a nurse, a botanist, a Chinese magician’s assistant, and a pierced, rainbow-highlighted Portlander (a persona that drew laughs from a local preview audience). Alice is not some quick-change con artist, the movie insists. (Although where does she get the driver’s licenses? The Social Security numbers? This movie doesn’t care.) No, Alice is merely a sad woman who keeps running away from her life because, I think, she is sad? (This movie doesn’t care about why she’s sad, either. Something to do with her mom, I think?)
Alice pops in on an old, now-married boyfriend (Michael Shannon) who’s still grumpy about her disappearance 15 years ago. They do a post-mortem that takes up most of Complete Unknown’s runtime, and both actors try their best to make sense of the script’s vagaries. There’s a weird sequence with Kathy Bates and Danny Glover that’s out of a different movie, and there’s a lot of symbolism concerning frogs, because frogs transform themselves, get it? But there’s nothing at the center of this movie. Like Alice, Complete Unknown is a hollow shell.