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Kiss of Death


Oh, what that film could have been? I mean, it’s still not too bad a picture as is, but on paper, it had the potential to become one of the coolest 90s crime pictures, along with “GoodFellas”, “Reservoir Dogs”, “Carlito’s Way” and “Donnie Brasco”. It’s a contemporary remake of the 1947 film of the same name, which I haven’t seen. I’m pretty sure the two films aren’t even similar, though, ’cause the 1995 version is really au goût du jour, with its hip style. It’s directed by Barbet Schroeder, who’s actually a really good director. His style is fresh, so you’d think he’s a newcomer, but he’s been making films since the early 70s. I like his storytelling and his visuals. It ain’t anything ground-breaking, but it gets the job done, and well.

Jimmy didn’t take the so-called right path in life. Early on, he became a car thief, not because he’s such a bad guy, but just ’cause it’s the only thing he feels he’s good at. That, and it pays real well too. Hence, he could live the good life with his wife Bev and his daughter. The shit hits the fan when he gets caught and sent to jail for a few years. After that, he’s decided to make a living in the boundaries of society. He does for a while, but one night, his cousin Ronnie asks him for a small favor. It’s nothing, he just has to drive a truck and he’ll even get paid. Then again, the whole thing fucks up and Jimmy is sent back to jail, for three years. When he finally gets out, nothing’s gonna stop him from living a regular life with his family. He makes a deal with the cops and accepts to bust mobster Little Junior for them. Still, things won’t be all that easy. Shit happens.

That’s an interesting plot, no doubt about that. Okay, it ain’t all that original, but that’s not all that important, ’cause it’s the kind of film who’s more about characters than story, kinda like Elmore Leonard’s books. There is a whole lot of characters, and each gets the spotlight for a while. It’s like in a book, when a chapter can be about just one character, and not even the hero. And what makes that work in the movie is the superb cast. Even the least important scenes are involving because of the strong performances. Like at first, it almost seems like the film is about Bev. The events are seen from her perspective, as her husband screws up. Bev’s played by Helen Hunt, who has a only a small role, but it’s memorable. It’s like Michael Rapaport, who interprates Ronnie, a street hustler who uses the garage he owns as a cover for a traffic of stolen vehicles. Rapaport gets the Brooklyn thug part perfectly.

Then there’s the police. You got the always interesting Stanley Tucci as a crooked prosecutor, and the cooler than cool Sam Jackson as a messed up cop. Jackson’s “Pulp Fiction” co-star Ving Rhames is also featured as a coke snorting gangster. By now, you must be thinking, whoa, that rules, man! Well, wait, these are just the supporting actors! The leads are played by David Caruso and Nic Cage, the good and the bad. I’m talking about their roles, but also their talent. Can someone tell me why Caruso was chosen to play the hero? He’s an okay actor, but that’s exactly my point. Surrounded by this stellar cast, his just okay performance is disappointing. The role of Jimmy the rat is kinda similar to the one of “Donnie Brasco” in the film of the same name, but Johnny Depp does a much, much better job. The main reason the film doesn’t work is because we don’t believe in the central, most important character. Caruso gets shit around during the whole film, but he always has that dead fish expression.

Still, the film has gotta be seen, if just for the performance of Nicolas Cage. He plays Little Junior, an ashtmatic, strip joint owning, gun toting, metal spoon hating, bodybuilding mobster who doesn’t like to be messed with. Cage really buffed himself up. You never saw him with such big muscles; even his face has toughened up. Though he has some awesome moments where it’s his physique that’s in the spotlight (like the finale), he was also given the script’s best dialogue and one-liners. Too bad he wasn’t given an interesting co-star like in his following tough guy films. Hey think about it: Sean Connery (“The Rock”), John Malkovich (“Con Air”), John Travolta (“Face/Off”). A little more impressive on a marquee than David Caruso!