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Kiss of Death Review

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A reformed convict goes undercover with the help of an angry detective to ensnare a psychotic mobster.

★★★★★

From the opening two-minute tracking shot of a seedy junkyard, it’s clear that Schroeder has set himself the task of making an ugly film. From Nic Cage’s shell suits to Sam Jackson’s scar, from the tacky purple and chrome interiors to David Caruso’s paunch, this is a movie determined to explore the seamier side of life on every level.
Jimmy Kilmartin (Caruso) is a man trapped by circumstance, fate, the Mob and the DA. Having done time for grand theft auto (with his wife dying while he’s on the inside), Jimmy just wants to get on with his life. But the cops are pressuring him to help them get Junior (Cage), the “brains” of the outfit. As events spiral out of control, Jimmy must find a way to get the bad guys, on both sides of the law, and get himself out.
In remaking Henry Hathaway’s 1947 noir(ital) original, Schroeder has opted to go high and fast on the melodrama, pacing his movie with broad strokes, a style that doesn’t always sit well with the movie as a whole. Richard Price’s script attempts to justify this, with plenty of his trademark designer B-movie dialogue, but it’s in the performances that the movie really only holds together. Sam Jackson just hangs around and looks menacing, both Helen Hunt and Michael Moriarty provide excellent support for their limited amount of screen time. As Junior, the kind of psychopath who wears polyester and bench presses strippers to impress daddy, Nic Cage does another of his wonderful “I’m acting in a world of my own” turns that enliven the movie no end. Caruso, meanwhile, gave up NYPD Blue for this, his first starring role.
Was it worth it? Well, try as he might he’s not really leading man material, but what he is, is an intense, instinctive, eminently watchable actor, who’s performance here gives the film the dark heart all it stylish trappings otherwise deny it.

Well made, but not entirely successful ensemble thriller.

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