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Kiss Of Death|
cast: Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Helen Hunt, Ving Rhames, and David Caruso
director: Barbet Schroeder
96 minutes (18) 1995
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Richard Bowden
A loose remake of the classic 1947 film noir, this version boasts an impressive cast:
Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Helen Hunt, Ving Rhames, Stanley Tucci as well as the
underrated David Caruso. As Kilmartin's first wife Bev, Helen Hunt is particularly good,
and one feels the film loses intensity when her character shortly disappears. Unfortunately
the presence of all this talent doesn't make this film anything more than a commercially
entertaining 90 minutes or so. Schroeder sacrifices many of the strengths of the original
production to create a thriller with a much more contemporary impact, but average results.
Whereas Hathaway's film was praised at the time for its documentary feel, Schroeder's
location work remains fairly anonymous, excepting the impressive crane and tracking shot
through the junkyard over which the opening credits are played out.
At the heart of the film is the character of Kilmartin. Dragged back
into the underworld and danger by the call of an imagined debt, his journey is a gradual
one from a position of weakness and entrapment to that of strength and liberation. As he
says later to Junior, "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" - hardly
original philosophy, but his growing assertiveness confirms the truth of this inspiration.
Kilmartin has to overcome in turn his injuries, his imprisonment, his wife's crash, betrayal
and his own fear before he finds his feet again. His adventures become a means to recover his
self-respect, to regain personal equilibrium, a result only achieved in the final scene.
While Caruso fittingly provides the most complex and understated performance
in the film, the opposite is true of Cage, who plays the asthmatic and hulking, Junior - a
psychopathic thug with a bizarre aversion to eating with metal cutlery. Junior says that he
has taken 'Balls, Attitude, Direction' as his personal acronym (a somewhat laboured plot point
when it reappears on the forehead of Kilmartin's kidnapped daughter and then his front door).
BAD is too strong an assessment of Cage's uncontrolled performance, which remains entertaining
and memorable, but he has been better. His casual 'press-ups' with the dancer for instance, his
ritualistic slaughter of Kilmartin's cousin, or his asthma spray (which at times recalls Frank's
oxygen mask tripping in Blue Velvet), remain in the mind long after the rest of the plot
has been forgotten. Kilmartin's nervousness when he next meets Junior, and the edgy scenes which
follow between the two, are among the better things in the film, mainly due to the psychotic
traits Cage gives his character and the resulting tension.
Calvin, played here by the excellent Samuel L. Jackson, has little to do.
Excluded from Kilmartin's final plans except for his timely arrival to arrest Junior, he grows
increasingly redundant. The original gravitas, accompanying his character's internalised rage,
evaporates through the plot's meanderings. Significantly, although present, he is largely
excluded in detail from the subplot concerning the ambitious DA (Tucci). Having said that,
Calvin's weeping eye is an excellent touch, its false tears reflecting his bitterness after
the shooting. But still we long to see him in more extended interaction with the persecuted
hero. Instead he is largely wasted, a symbol of many of this film's missed opportunities.
Those looking for a reasonably exciting thriller will enjoy this sufficiently
to make it worth their while. Those wanting to see the real thing, albeit somewhat changed in
detail, will be advised to seek out giggling Richard Widmark and fraught Victor Mature in the
DVD extras: featurette, seven interview clips, a trailer, and 11-language