Principal Cast : Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes, Alex McArthur, Bill Nunn, Jeremy Piven, Brian Cox, Jay O Sanders, Tony Goldwyn, William COnverse-Roberts, Roma Maffia, Richard T Jones, Gina Ravera, Heide Schanz, Tatyana Ali, Mena Suvari, Anna Maria Horsford, Helen Martin.
Synopsis: Police hunting for a serial kidnapper are helped when a victim manages to escape for the first time.
Director Gary Fleder (Don’t Say A Word, Homefront) helms his sophomore feature film with a sputtering, gamey attempt to replicate the tension of Silence of The Lambs, only without the ability to generate any whatsoever. Let by a calm Morgan Freeman, who looks right at home researching from giant tomes and journals as he plays James Patterson’s literary hero detective Alex Cross, and a remarkably emotional performance by Ashley Judd (who would have a mini-career spurt during this period, following Michael Mann’s Heat, Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill, and followed by Double Jeopardy and Frida), Kiss The Girls is a tepid, plodding crime thriller that feels more like a lesser Criminal Minds episode than a full-fledged feature film. That the movie offers similar bleak and sombre tones to David Fincher’s Se7en isn’t lost on me, although again Fleder is a director incapable of mining the correct tension and mystery within this abduction-slash-sex-crime chiller.
Set in the misty woodlands of North Carolina, Kiss The Girls sees a serial kidnapper and killer, self-nicknamed Casanova, abduct a number of women from the area and brutally murder them. When Detective Alex Cross’s young niece Naomi is subsequently snatched, Cross takes a personal interest in the case; he teams up with recent escapee, Dr Kate McTiernan (Judd), who assists him on the case. The clues lead to a Californian-based doctor (Tony Goldwyn) and a far bigger crime to be uncovered, assisted by fellow FBI Agent Kyle Craig (Jay O Sanders), and North Carolina’s finest in Detectives Nick Ruskin (Cary Elwes), Davey Sikes (Alex McArthur) and Henry Castillo (Jeremy Piven), as well as one of Cross’s old colleagues in John Sampson (Bill Nunn).
Kiss The Girls feels like an adjunct to better, sharper crime thrillers of the period. The film is a bit of a misfire, Fleder’s direction often occasioning whippy, incomprehensible camerawork and editorial flourishes that make little sense. The opening credits are really baffling, and one suspects the literary origins of the script failed to translate properly to the big screen, or at least feel shallow and flashy by studio conscription. Characters never quite feel fully fleshed out, the reveal of both Casanova’s identity and the various red herrings sprinkled throughout lack distinctiveness, and the action sequences are far too brief and ill-equipped to manifest as coherent, which leaves the exposition and dramatic urgency to poor Freeman – who tries his best – and Judd, to lift. The ensemble cast is solid but never challenged, and the novel’s apparently gruesome details are airbrushed in favour of suiting a more delicate palette – Kiss The Girls deals with sexual assault and may be triggering for some, so be warned, and some of the expedient plot movements involve behaviours that aren’t correct for handling survivors of this kind of thing. Frankly, I just found it all a bit dull.
I mean, I’ll watch Morgan Freeman read a phone book, but even he can’t elevate pedestrian screenwriting such as this. Fleder’s fledgling directorial skill was never going to push the gritty material in a direction modern audiences might enjoy, and you can tell this feels more like a knock-off of Jonathan Demme’s far superior Silence Of The Lambs than a film of its own imagination. See it if you’re a fan of either Freeman or Judd, otherwise skip it.