a critiQal film review Kiss of Death (1995)

  • DVD

Plot: Ex-con Jimmy Kilmartin (Caruso) is caught in an inescapable web of double crosses, deceit and sudden death when he's forced to infiltrate New York's criminal underground. Trapped between a vicious psychopath (Cage) and an unscrupulous D.A. (Tucci), Kilmartin must find the strength and ingenuity to save himself and his family.

661 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 18s)

Browsing through the NetFlix® Instant Queue, I stumbled across a film I hadn’t seen in years – a film, by the way, highlighted David Caruso’s brief movie career – Kiss of Death.

After quitting NYPD Blue (TV), our red-haired friend Caruso had dreams of making it big on the big screen. But, with a few bad choices (Jade being the worst among them), that dream was short-lived, and Caruso dropped off the map for awhile. Of course, he has since recovered rather nicely with his role in “CSI: Miami” (TV).

But, now that he is doing better, I felt like it was high time I took a look back at some of his brief movie career. Would Kiss of Death showcase why he didn’t make it on the big screen, or did he just choose the wrong roles?

Playing a hoodlum seems like quite of a stretch for Caruso in his first movie role. After playing a detective who tended to stray over the line on occasion, it might have been a better idea for him to play a dirty cop, rather than just another street hoodlum. But, he jumped at the chance to try something a little different, and, while he’s decent, he’s just never quite believable as a hoodlum. Maybe he would have been better off to switch roles with one of his co-stars instead.

While Caruso is the main attraction in Kiss of Death, he’s by no means the only recognizable face in the cast. With everyone from Helen Hunt and Kathryn Erbe (who would also go on to play a TV detective, although she showed up in “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (TV), not “CSI: Miami” (TV)) to Nicolas Cage, Stanley Tucci, Ving Rhames and Samuel L. Jackson, it seems like a star-studded cast that couldn’t go wrong.

Sadly, many of these talented actors are misused or under-utilized. Nicolas Cage, as a muscle-bound thug, is decent enough, again it just doesn’t seem a role that quite suits him, and viewers could easily see someone like, say, Vin Diesel in the role (hint, hint, Hollywood, if you are looking to remake the film again). Ving Rhames, usually a brilliant actor, is totally under-used, only appearing for brief moments.

Stanley Tucci, as the unscrupulous D.A., is decent enough, and Samuel L. Jackson, as usual, doesn’t disappoint. Still, with Caruso’s background and Jackson’s versatility, Kiss of Death might have worked better if Jackson had played the hoodlum and Caruso the cop with an attitude. The viewers would have easily been able to get behind Jackson, and Caruso might have managed to pull off a bit more of a believable performance as the bitter cop – while also taking a bit of the weight of the movie’s success of his new-to-the-movie-biz shoulders.

The story is decent enough, and has the makings of turning into something promising, but through the under-utilized and miscast actors, the film never manages to make the viewer care enough to invest any emotional attachment. The pace of the film doesn’t help much either, and it seems to be composed more of snippets of a hoodlum’s life, rather than a tension-filled escalation to a dramatic conclusion. Maybe that’s the result of the 90’s, where the MTV-fueled brief, attention-grabbing sequences were just becoming all the rage, and almost every film was trying to capture that same feel.

All in all, Kiss of Death, while looking incredibly promising on the face of it, what with it’s cavalcade of stars and it’s hoodlum-caught-between-uncaring-cops-and-a-criminal-psychopath storyline, but the viewer quickly discovers that it squanders all of it’s promise early on, and turns out to be nothing more than average at best.

Still, what with it’s major role in Caruso’s short-lived movie career, Kiss of Death is an interesting snippet of movie history, and is interesting because of it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any better, and most of the actors – Caruso included, albeit probably a bit wistfully – have long since forgotten their roles in this one.

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