Kiss the Girls (1997)

Lock Up Your Daughters

From the moment its opening credits start to roll, an oh-so-’90s montage of helpless women accompanied by the voiceover of their captor, Kiss the Girls tells you exactly the kind of movie it is.  Part of its moment’s spate of serial killer thrillers looking to capitalize on the success of The Silence of the Lambs, the movie’s differing story, as well as its preexisting source novel, do (just) enough to prevent it from being a rip-off.    

This time the creep is “Casanova,” who imprisons, rapes, and kills women in the name of a deranged courtship fantasy.  His latest prisoner is Naomi Cross (Gina Ravera), whose forensic psychologist uncle Alex (Morgan Freeman) flies to North Carolina to help the F.B.I. and local police with the case.  Casanova has already left them several bodies of local young women, and Cross doesn’t have much time before Naomi joins them.  After tough young doctor Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) narrowly escapes Casanova’s lair, she becomes Cross’s best chance at finding the killer.

Everything about Kiss the Girls’s presentation is big, from the score to the production design.  Casanova’s lair in particular, an impossibly huge gothic dungeon complete with stone walls and candelabras, makes no bones about looking like a lavish set.  The cinematography, too, is happy to make itself known, with sweeping canted angles and loud, stylized lighting.  Such flourishes give the movie an appealing campiness that sets it apart from forgettable contemporaries like The Bone Collector, but it would be too charitable to call it self-aware – Kiss the Girls is an unequivocal execution of formula. 

Freeman’s grounded presence balances out the more outlandish aspects, keeping the movie from ever going completely off the rails.  Thanks to his reliable charisma and quiet intensity, the movie retains dramatic weight even in its more unbelievable scenes.  Judd holds her own in the second lead, displaying natural chemistry with Freeman, and her role is slightly more dynamic than simply The Traumatized Victim.  The movie also gets a boost from a stacked supporting cast of character actors, all of whom are too good for the thin parts they’re given, but one is grateful for their presence nonetheless.

After a tightly paced first act, the cracks in the script’s narrative begin to show; one can practically hear it strain as it tries to justify Kate’s increasingly implausible presence in the investigation.  By all accounts she should not be joining Freeman on stakeouts and a raid on a suspect’s house, but the movie asks us to accept it.  And I did, to some extent, because the movie’s use of such contrivances, despite their lack of realism, is usually in the service of creating tension – an agreeable priority for a thriller.

Even in its sillier moments (of which there are plenty), Kiss the Girls is always watchable, chugging along and continuously building suspense.  It never quite gets a grip on its action scenes, a series of interchangeable shootouts and near brushes with the killer.  But it manages to stage an exciting finale, complete with a final reveal that, while cheesy, totally lands, thanks to a swelling musical cue and the chilling performance of a certain actor.  It’s not subtle, and in retrospect it doesn’t make much sense, but it gets the job done; as does the rest of the movie.


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