Kiss the Girls (1997)

D: Gary Fleder
S: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes

Well worked thriller from James Patterson's bestselling novel pits police psychologist Morgan Freeman against an unusual serial killer, one who is more interested in his victims alive than dead. A strong personal dimension is added to the story because his latest victim is Freeman's niece. There are plenty of twists and complications from there which are best left to an actual viewing, but unfortunately the identity of the villain is all too obvious merely from the casting. Thankfully, this doesn't compleely spoil the film, which works hard to ensure that the tension is sustained through character development.

This genre has seemed particularly over crowded of late, and few films have managed to come close to the level of tension achieved in Silence of the Lambs. This is usually because in their eagerness to focus on scenes of suspense and/or psychological interplay between protagonist and antagonist, they tend to ignore secondary characters and leave the heavyweights to battle it out until someone dies. This film manages to create and sustain a healthy and interesting relationship between its two leads (neither of whom is the villain) and adds some supporting characters who provide interesting direction for the narrative. Ashley Judd has a good role as the female lead and makes the most of it. With the benefit of useful plot turns, she manages to escape the clichés which often ruin this type of character. Freeman exhibits low key tension throughout and keeps the tone of the film serious (though it is not without some dark humour).

Otherwise this is generally done along familiar lines and provides the usual quota of tense moments. It should prove popular with fans of the genre despite the lack of physical gore or even much in the way of shocks and jolts. It is actually rather refreshing to find a director capable of keeping audiences on the edge of their seats not in anticipation of some bloody melee on screen, but because the stakes have been sufficiently established and raised through the ordinary interplay between characters and plot. It ultimately boils down to nothing particularly out of the ordinary in terms of themes and moral issues, and the final confrontation is, as ever, a testament to the villain's lack of smarts when it counts. But in general Felder and Patterson (contributing to the screenplay himself) come up with enough minor variation to keep us with them until the final credits roll. The film is generally intelligent, well paced and entertaining and should provide a solid evening's entertainment for those of a disposition to accept it on its own terms.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.