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'Kiss the Girls': Clever Creep Show

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 3, 1997

"Kiss the Girls," a tense, scary, perversely creepy thriller, comes with a game feminist role model in Kate Mctiernan (Ashley Judd), a kick-boxing doctor who is captured by a serial criminal but refuses to become his victim. Still, it's disturbing that the resident psychopath preys solely on women who are not only young and beautiful but remarkably gifted and, most telling of all, exceptionally strong-willed.

For all its feminist posturing, there's something about targeting willful women that suggests there's an especially ugly agenda lurking beneath the surface of this all-too-familiar scenario. The more self-assured and accomplished a woman becomes, the more likely she will be stalked, kidnapped, imprisoned, raped and tormented.

"Casanova," as the villain signs his handiwork, isn't tempted by the usual quarry -- children, prostitutes and prom queens. He chooses his prey from the college campuses in North Carolina's Research Triangle. A serial collector, Casanova has captured seven students, two of whom have turned up dead, when he snatches Naomi (Gina Ravera), the niece of Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman).

A best-selling author and forensic psychologist with the D.C. police department, Alex immediately flies to Durham, N.C., where he persuades local, ever so slightly racist authorities to let him in on the investigation. Though he sorts through the evidence methodically, there's really not much to go on till Casanova's ninth victim, Kate, manages to escape from the damp dungeon where he keeps his growing harem.

Though injured and traumatized, Kate quickly recovers with the doctor's help and subsequently helps him track down the villain. At first, the two sleuths are briefly on an even footing, but Kate's role becomes increasingly vestigial and her lines cliched. "Be careful," she whispers as Alex and the detectives set off to ambush the suspect while she waits in the car.

For all her shortcomings, Kate still belongs to the same family of heroines as Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs," which similarly turned on the machinations of a kinky women-hater, Buffalo Bill. While comparisons between the earlier film and this one are inevitable, they're not wholly apt.

For one thing, Dr. Alex Cross may share Dr. Hannibal Lecter's interest in psychiatry, but he's never eaten anyone's liver. Furthermore, both Judd and Freeman bring dignity and class to the project, which helps to offset the more luridly voyeuristic aspects of this undertaking. Take the sight of Naomi, a gifted violinist, playing for Casanova while he fiddles with the other women.

David Klass, who wrote the adaptation of James Patterson's bestseller, blessedly deletes the graphic descriptions of torture and rape included in the novel. Unfortunately, he also neglects to include any explanation of Casanova's behavior.

Otherwise "Kiss the Girls" does what it's supposed to do. A solid second film from director Gary Fleder ("Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"), it's sure to set pulses racing and spines tingling. Too bad it's at the expense of the dignity of young women everywhere.

Kiss the Girls is rated R for nudity, violence, language and sexual situations.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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