Still, and always will be, one of the greatest movies ever filmed, from a wonderful, lesser-read story by the master Stephen King.
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.
Jet Li will fuck you up, kid.
Lucy. 2014. Directed & Written by Luc Besson.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Jan Oliver Schroder, and Nicolas Phongpheth. Ciné+/Canal+/EuropaCorp/TF1 Films Production. Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
I’m a fan of Luc Besson. His first feature film, La dernier combat, is a tour-de-force in thinking outside the box and innovative storytelling. Afterwards, he put out other wonderful pieces of filmmaking such as The Big Blue, Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and more. While he tackles an array of subjects throughout his filmography as a director, as well as a writer, Besson usually does impressive work when it comes to science fiction and contract killing. Let’s face it: this is his niche. Nothing wrong with it either.
All that being said, Lucy is not one of his best films. It isn’t trash, though. It just doesn’t measure up to some of the aforementioned efforts with which he hit, in my mind, grand slams. Where Lucy falls short is mostly in the writing, not the execution. The premise of the movie is amazing, but plays on a well-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brain. If Besson had whittled away a few bits of his screenplay, there may have been a chance for his ambitious story to fit well with his style of filmmaking. As it stands, this is a decent enough action thriller, albeit one that doesn’t use much of its own brain power. Still, the adrenaline flows from beginning to end in classic Besson style.
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is American. She is 25, living in Taiwan. Succumbing to a dark request forced upon her by a recent boyfriend, Lucy is handcuffed to a briefcase full of drugs and made to deliver it for a villainous man named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik).
Only after meeting Jang, things turn into a terrifying nightmare. Lucy, along with several other unsuspecting individuals, has her abdomen cut open, and inside is placed hundreds of grams of a new experimental drug called CPH4, tucked in a plastic bag. Life gets even worse once Lucy ends up in a cell, chained to a wall. After being beaten by a guard and kicked in the stomach, the bag inside her breaks, leaking the CPH4 into her bloodstream. The drug is meant to expand the brain function of a human being from the supposed 10% we use regularly, to a whopping 100%.
On a rampage to both save her own life, as well as discover what’s happening to her, Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose studies happen to involve the expansion of the human brain’s functions. Along the way she is tested, both mentally and physically. But most of all, Lucy is becoming – something new, something extraordinary, and something very, very dangerous.
At the start of the film, we’re introduced to an ape. Shortly afterwards, through dialogue, we discover it is Lucy – the first ever woman. This sets up an idea about evolution, biology, of science and the ways of the world. Although, most of this never really goes anywhere. It does, and it does not all the same. Part of what I mean is that it’s heavy handed. So much animal imagery in the first little while, and it was not needed. Whatsoever. I saw someone talk about this Besson film in the right way recently: it breaks too much a big rule of cinema, in that it tells us too much. Instead of showing things, letting the audience suss out the meaning, almost every aspect in the film’s initial quarter comes to us spelled out in great detail.
Something I did like, in that regard, is how Besson continually gave us the 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on. Not that we didn’t understand her brain power and function was increasing, it was simply an extra way for him to up the intensity. After each percentage update, you can almost feel your own adrenaline pumping, ready for the next big event, awaiting some kind of excitement about to drop on us.
I can’t exactly say this movie is filled with good performances. Not to say Scarlett Johansson or anyone else in the picture does a bad job with their role. But here there is Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and a favourite of mine Min-sik Choi (his turns in films like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil and others are fantastic). Between them, there is incredible acting power. Except none of that really makes it across here. Especially Freeman who is vastly underused for the majority of the film, as well as Choi whose charisma and idiosyncrasies are not used appropriately either. Particularly, I love Johansson and she does not do much at all in this film. Contrasted with a recent film like the unbelievably incredible Under the Skin, the almost phoned-in performance here makes Johansson look bad – simply because I KNOW SHE CAN DO BETTER. With such an interesting script and characters you’d think these actors might knock this one out of the park, at least as far as their jobs go. Unfortunately, we’re not given any such performances and it’s a large part of why this movie doesn’t do any better than mediocre.
Even the action elements of Lucy don’t end up making things pay off. As opposed to Besson work like The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional, this one doesn’t pack as much oomph. There are moments of action and adventure. There are pieces of exciting fights. Ultimately, though, Besson opts to go more for telekinesis style fighting, shootouts, and flashy special effects work which does nothing for me. He claims wanting to make the first part similar to Léon: The Professional, the second akin to Inception, and the final act he hoped would draw parallels with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ambitious? Sure. Yet there’s not enough action and choreographed fight sequences in the entire film, at least not proper ones, for the whole premise to be fully realized. The trailer promised an almost non-stop thrill ride along with the titular character, but what we really get is a bit of action and lots of science fiction musing (misguided at that). Worst of all, the finale is packed with a huge gunfight, even a bazooka being fired. And wrapped up in there is a lackluster ending, leaving us with more questions than answers, as well as wondering how all the potential was squandered.
I can give this a 3 star rating without feeling bad about it either way. Luc Besson is a fantastic filmmaker and, at times, he can truly be a visionary from his technique to the way in which he writes his stories. With all the hopefulness of its premise, Lucy just cannot deliver the appropriate goods. Boasting an impressive cast, a fun idea and the visual flair of Besson, this should have been more interesting than how it turned out. While not every last bit of the movie was bad, obviously, there are too many misfires for it to be anything better than average. Here’s to hoping Luc pulls up the bootstraps and hauls out something better next time.