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Steve-o gets serious as a dentist. Numbing Steve Martin has done drama before with striking results — I’m thinking especially of The Spanish Prisoner, not the soggy A Simple Twist of Fate. But the role of Frank Sangster, DDS, gives this protean talent — comic, actor, screenwriter, essayist, playwright, novelist — precious little to bite into. Frank’s life in root canal is flowing along nicely; he has a thing going on with Jean (Laura Dern), his hygienist. But Jean is a little prissy for Frank’s taste — she won’t do it in the dental chair. Enter Susan (Helena Bonham Carter), a new patient with no qualms about getting freaky. Susan, a junkie with an eye for Frank’s drug supply, escalates his life into lust, extortion and murder.

Sounds tasty. And first-time director-screenwriter David Atkins — a former rock drummer from a family of dentists — creates a film noir atmosphere with creepy skull X-rays and a climactic tooth extraction that will have you postponing your next dental appointment. Atkins wants to expose hidden moral decay, but his slack direction fails to touch a nerve. Martin was scarier and funnier extracting Bill Murray’s molars without Novocaine in Little Shop of Horrors. Now that was one crazy dentist.

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