Kiss the Girls. 1997. Directed by Gary Fleder. Screenplay by David Klass; based on the novel of the same name by James Patterson.
Starring Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Alex McArthur, Tony Goldwyn, Jay O. Sanders, Bill Nunn, Brian Cox, Richard T. Jones, Roma Maffia, Jeremy Piven, Gina Ravera, William Converse-Roberts, Helen Martin, & Tatyana Ali. Paramount Pictures/Rysher Entertainment.
Rated R. 115 minutes.
This is a film that’s always surprised me. It isn’t perfect, but uses its James Patterson roots and lots of excellent cinematic suspense to make for an exciting ride. Further than that, I’m not a Patterson reader, so I’m not sure if he generally has a dark feel to his writing. You can be sure, though: Kiss the Girls, for all its cop v. serial killer trappings, is a macabre crime story rife with mystery and wreathed with elements of horror. Patterson seems more concerned with the crime elements of his stories than diving too deep on the twisted criminals and killers Alex Cross faces. However, this is one of the Alex Cross films that successfully dips into genuinely eerie territory.
When this came out I was about 11. My mom read a lot of different novels and a wide variety of authors, one of which was Patterson now and then (mainly she and I both gravitated towards Stephen King). In turn, she watched lots of different movies. Usually, she, my dad, and I would sit down on the weekend at least one night and watch a movie together. After this came out, we rented it and watched it together. Though it on the surface may look like a typical crime thriller, this is a little better than the mediocre movies you might have seen sitting on the video rental rack in ’97. I’m sure I rented it more than a couple times back then, enjoying both Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, particularly the latter in her role as a tough survivor of the killer Casanova who helps the former in his quest to bring the man down for good. Eventually I bought the DVD, now I watch it a few times a year. Despite its flaws, Kiss the Girls is a top notch serial killer film that does what it sets out to do: chill at times, and always entertain.
Ashley Judd is the one whose performance carries the most weight. I do love Morgan Freeman, and I love him as Alex Cross. Judd does the heavy lifting. She plays such a strong female character, which in part is the writing. Although Judd is the one that infuses Dr. Kate McTiernan with so much power. Her strength is immediate, as we’re introduced to her saving lives, boxing, and generally being a kick ass, take charge woman. Later following her escape from Casanova’s grasp, Kate becomes even further transformed. In her weakness as a victim she flips the expectations, subverting our idea of victim and becoming someone even stronger than before. She uses her pain not as a crutch, but rather takes it as an opportunity to toughen, as well as to help the police try catching the man that almost killed her. Without Judd, this role could easily be a weak link.
Similarly, despite the criticism of some, I find Freeman does well with the Cross character. I’ve never read the books, so I can’t judge how it is for the readers who come to this film adaptation. But I like this iteration of Cross. He’s a cool guy in terms of his demeanour, rarely getting too excitable and mostly remaining calculated, thoughtful, as if always one step ahead of his own brain, keeping calm to assess each situation. From the first crime scene where Cross has to talk down an abused woman pushed to murder from killing herself. This sort of initiates us into his world, his attitude and way of thinking, how he operates as a detective. And whereas certain critics I’ve seen review this movie say Freeman doesn’t seem like that hardened kind of street cop who’s seen it all, I’m the opposite – he strikes me totally genuine, someone who has seen everything there is to see, every last imaginable horror and still manages to hold onto a degree of optimism.
For what might look like a run of the mill crime-thriller out of the mid-to-late ’90s, Kiss the Girls breaks through the mould. This is because the plot gets dark, quickly. In fact, from the beginning of the movie we’re thrust into darkness, a macabre story that starts in the serial killer’s perspective and then follows along with a detective and one of the murderer’s potential victims as they try cracking the mysterious case. Along the way, naturally, there are twists. These come as pleasantly surprising, not telegraphed and expected like so many other similar films. Near the end, a huge reveal pays off lots of the expert suspense to which we’re subjected. Some say the reveal doesn’t work simply based on certain voice aspects (you’ll figure it out after watching), and that’s nonsense to me. This is a nice, scary little twist that I’ve always enjoyed, even after seeing it so many times. Before that when we’re treated to a proper red herring, one that ties into the whole voice aspect mentioned previously, and it makes things quite disturbing. At every step there’s something nasty, layered beneath a seemingly typical story about a talented cop trailing right behind a killer. There’s never anything graphic – this film mainly gets its R-rating due to some cursing and heavy adult themes – but still, there are plenty of times the story and certain characters chill me to the bone.
I couldn’t care less if Mythbusters ruined the ending: the finale is solid, unsettling, and in a way pretty fun. You’ll likely be surprised by the twist, if not I feel sorry for your clairvoyance. Everything which leads to the conclusion of the film makes for a highly unnerving experience. Sure, some portions of the screenplay can feel cliche or too typical of the crime-thriller genre. Still, Kiss the Girls works hard to feel slightly more horror (mainly on psychological grounds) than you’d expect, and for that it surpasses other films of its kind. With Judd and Freeman pulling out solid performances respectively, and the Patterson material used to great effect, this is a 4-star bit of work I’m always willing to throw on when I’m at a loss as to what I feel like watching. Never fails to entertain.