Kiss of Death

The title says it all. The only saving grace in this action thriller is the performance of Nicolas Cage. That boy can do anything, and often does. This time he's Little Junior, a psychopathic killer, and you just want to hug him for it.

In fact, you probably would, if you didn't think he'd blow your brains out. It couldn't be the silver in his mouth, so it must be the mercury in his teeth. And, when all is said and done, who needs wheel chairs when you've got your fists? David Caruso's portrayal of ex-con Jimmy Kilmartin (bad boy gone straight), steadfast in his dedication to family values despite the evil forces pursuing him, has the same qualities he has become renowned for in the TV series NYPD Blue, i.e. red hair, freckles, and a pronounced mumble. (Speaking about family values, the new girl moved in pretty fast once the wife was raped and killed.)

Director Barbet Schroeder has done a fine job in portraying the criminal underworld of New York (take it from someone like the Green Hartnett, who was born and bred there), but seems to have missed the mark slightly with his so-called modern approach to morality.

According to producer Susan Hoffman, who has worked with Schroeder since their collaboration on Barfly, "The whole idea of right and wrong has changed since 1947. There was a naive notion then about people in authority; everything was black and white." Schroeder adds, "All the bad guys are gray and all our good guys are gray. The forces of good in Jimmy Kilmartin's world are as hard to read as the forces of evil, and this ambiguity is what I loved about the material." Sounds like some pretty heavy stuff, doesn't it?

On the other hand, I think we've all more or less managed to come to the same conclusion since 1947 either from life experience or watching TV. Don't we all know that there's good and bad in almost everyone? I suppose Schroeder is hoping that somewhere out there's a group of people who have been locked away from the outside world since 1947 and that this film will be a shocking revelation to them.

And what, you may ask, is this curious obsession with the year 1947, anyway? It happens to be the year that the original film of this title was made from a screenplay written by hard-hitting Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer. True, Richard Price has succeeded in updating the environment and characters somewhat in his adaptation, but the prizes still go to the original film noir.

Price has written more interesting scripts (like The Color of Money or Sea of Love). This film also has a hard punch to it, but the end seems to fade off into the oblivion of predictability (i.e. the good guy wins). Let's look forward to Clockers, his next offering, in the hands of New York's Spike Lee.

Superb points for photography (Luciano Tovoli) and production designer (Mel Bourne) as special mention for the performance of Michael Rapaport in the role of Ronnie, the piece of slime that everyone will love to hate.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett