It is a grizzly, tense, unpleasant film that is unredeemed by anything that smacks of fun or, to be unpardonably earnest, justice.
Only the box office numbers will tell whether "Kiss of Death" will play to what we are told repeatedly is a national fascination with the manners and customs of the underworld. Two hours of watching petty punks steal, murder and humiliate each other--unless it happens to be "Pulp Fiction--is not my idea of a good evening. If it is yours, rest assured that the movie has a capable cast as well as the strong guiding hand of director Barbet Schroeder.
Our hero, Jimmy Kilmartin (David Caruso), is bathed in the good fortune of loving his wife and baby while trying to go straight after a jail term for car theft. This one-scene euphoria is shattered by cousin Ronnie, who arrives at the door one step ahead of the local chop shop lords. Only Jimmy, he says, can save him by driving just one last rack of stolen cars to a pier for overseas delivery. How can a loyal cousin refuse that favor?
The price of caving in to misguided loyalty is a jail term and the end of Jimmy's family life. After three years, the police release him on the condition that he will become an informer in their crusade to get the goods on Little Junior (Nicholas Cage), a minor Mafia slug. Little Junior, a wheezing asthmatic wrapped in medicine and smarm, is a daunting assignment for Jimmy, who wants only to be a family man with a regular job.
Both good guys and bad are driven by a compulsive brutality that soon covers the screen with gore. The police beat suspects senseless, squeezing a broken hand here, kicking a head there. "We need your help, Jimmy," is a phrase that always lands Jimmy in a puddle of blood.
Although David Caruso's quiet intelligence makes Jimmy an appealing character, he seems too gentle to hold his own in the company of brutes, too smart to let all this happen to him twice. Samuel L. Jackson makes Cop Calvin the only character with a welcome unpredictability. From the others, no surprises.
Nicolas Cage plays Little Junior as a slimy, malignant parasite, while Michael Rapaport's Ronnie is a cousin from hell. Helen Hunt and Kathryn Erbe are fine as Jimmy's wives, and Stanley Tucci drips bile as a Manhattan D.A.
The movie is full of the familiar dark docks and warehouses, ferocious dogs and brutal people. We've been here before. It is a grizzly, tense, unpleasant film that is unredeemed by anything that smacks of fun or, to be unpardonably earnest, justice.
If imitation is flattery, let it not be at our expense. We seem doomed to endure a series of lifeless copies of the enormously inventive and rewarding "Pulp Fiction." Let's admit that Quentin Tarantino has cornered that market for a while.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : 20th Century Fox
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h41m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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