Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

‘Kiss of Death’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 21, 1995

Prior to its release, "Kiss of Death" was known as the movie that "NYPD" star David Caruso left television to make. And, for this erratic film's first few minutes, the small-screen phenom looks as if he might actually have what it takes to become a big-screen star.

Then Nicolas Cage makes his entrance.

As Little Junior—the homicidal sociopathic son of Queens auto-theft kingpin Big Junior—Cage is all beefed up like a wrestler, with big meaty arms hanging out of his sleeveless shirts. As chief enforcer for his father, Little Junior cleans up any "messes" that might arise from the operation of both his auto parts business and his strip club, Babycakes. When Cage is off and flying, "Kiss of Death"—which takes its story loosely from the 1947 film of the same name that made Richard Widmark a star—feels edgy and unpredictable. In the scene showing his reaction to his father's death—"He went out hard, man!"—Little Junior sobs uncontrollably in the middle of the Babycakes dance floor, while simultaneously dancing and jogging in place. Earlier, he'd bench-pressed a stripper 40 times—just for kicks. Cage's inspired hyperbole is what makes the film worth seeing. Not to disrespect Caruso, who, it seems, is a passable if rather tedious actor, but Cage dominates the camera, stealing scenes by the sheer intensity of his inimitable strangeness.

By comparison, Caruso's Jimmy seems lightweight and faded—a mere mortal. A local small-timer, he gets tangled up in the car theft racket by accident, when his cousin Ronnie (Michael Rapaport) begs him to work a one-time gig as a driver. From the start, Jimmy wants no part of it. He and his wife, Bev (Helen Hunt), have been trying to go straight, dry out and piece back together a marriage that has been through its share of hard times. But if Jimmy doesn't help, Ronnie tells him, there will be trouble with Little Junior. As luck would have it, of course, Jimmy gets caught, and, while serving his time at Sing Sing, is pressured by an ambitious state prosecutor (Stanley Tucci) into wearing a wire to get the goods on Little Junior.

At this point, Richard Price's skillful, wryly funny script becomes muddled and confusing. All Jimmy wants is for his life to return to normal. But Price and director Barbet Schroeder haven't done a very good job of letting us know who this guy is—or even what normal is to him. Schroeder also shifts back and forth between a tone of earnest homage to the mood and feel of the classic thriller to one that sends up the genre, laughing slyly behind its back.

Kiss of Death is rated R for language and violence.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help