Although it doesn't slavishly follow the plot of the original movie, this neo-noir from director Barbet Schroeder does a good job of hitting a number of familiar key points while ensuring that everything feels in line with a slightly grittier and more modern approach to the story. Writer Richard Price did this more than once throughout the 1990s, with varying degrees of success, and his complete body of work illustrates just how good he is at crafting tales of tension, threats, and troubling dilemmas.
David Caruso plays Jimmy Kilmartin, an ex-convict trying to go straight. Unfortunately, he is roped into a job by his wayward cousin (Michael Rapaport), and it isn’t long until things go sour. A cop (Samuel L. Jackson) is nearly killed, Jimmy is caught, and this leads to a spiral and unfortunate fate for his wife (Helen Hunt). Knowing that others are benefiting from him taking the rap, Jimmy is eventually convinced to become an informant, looking to help police get enough evidence to arrest Little Junior Brown (Nicolas Cage).
Kiss Of Death is both helped and hindered by its cast. Cage is a definite highlight, whether he’s bench-pressing a young woman to show off to others around him or getting ready to have some beaten up while listening to House Of Pain. He heads up a brilliant assortment of supporting turns, including the aforementioned Hunt, Rapaport, and Jackson, as well as Stanley Tucci, Ving Rhames, Kathryn Erbe, Anthony Heald, and Philip Baker Hall. Unfortunately, this is another film that should have put anyone aside from Caruso in the lead role. He’s rarely been a good leading man in movies, with his turn in Session 9 being a notable exception, and this film would benefit from almost anyone else being cast in the central role. Sorry, I cannot quite put my finger on the problem, but Caruso just doesn’t emanate any decent amount of charisma or watchability.
Clocking in at almost the same runtime as the original, Price does a good job of moving pieces into place for the finale while also allowing room for a few scenes that just flesh out the characters. Things never feel rushed, yet it never feels too slow or indulgent either. The end result may be far from a perfect film, but all of the ingredients are mixed in perfect amounts. Having Schroeder at the helm seems guaranteed to keep things from excelling, he is a competent pair of hands, but no more than that, so it’s a real bonus that we got this script married up with this cast. There are so many ways this could have gone horribly wrong, and I imagine some big fans of the original will still disapprove, but I am pleasantly surprised that it ended up so enjoyable and effective.
You might be put off by Caruso. You might be put off by Cage (some people still don’t appreciate his brilliance). You might even be put off just by the fact that this is a remake. I would advise you to get over those prejudices and give it a go. You should end up having a good time in the company of some bad people.
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