Kiss The Girls

on October 03, 1997 by Susan Lambert
   Full of sound and fury and based on the best-selling novel by James Patterson, "Kiss the Girls" is endemic of what is happening in most all Hollywood films these days. The craft of the movie is impeccable, the cast is excellent and the plot has all the requisite twists and turns. But the heart of the matter, the soul of the film, is sorely lacking. So all that effort--the strong, efficient direction by sophomore helmer Gary Fleder ("Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"), the effective and evocative cinematography, and the crisp editing--only works to elevate what is basically another fairly scary, very empty serial-killer movie.
   Morgan Freeman has sublime star quality and, amazingly enough, true actor abilities, so his presence alone is able to elevate a film from the mediocre to the magical, and he once again brings a special sense of significance and powerful emotional stillness to his role as forensic detective Dr. Alex Cross. When the good detective's niece, Naomi ("Showgirls'" Gina Ravera) turns up missing from law school, Cross leaves his Washington, D.C. jurisdiction, traveling to North Carolina to pursue an investigation into a shadowy serial killer who "collects" women and calls himself "Casanova." A break in the case comes when a tough-minded intern, Dr. Kate McTiernan ("A Time to Kill's" Ashley Judd), manages to escape her captor so she and Cross can team to identify Casanova and find Cross' niece.
   The underlying offensive nature of the film cannot be erased by Judd's kickboxing-"I am not a victim"-young intern because it's all for show. With the exception of knowing Judd is a whizz-bang expert doctor and one tough cookie who says goodnight to her fish, this is a film in which the women, including Judd and the supposedly all-important niece, are simply window dressing. Props to be posed, prodded, watched and victimized--all from a distance. The conundrum is that the film is not without thought. For brief shining moments--a snip of dialogue here, a wordless exchange between Freeman and Judd--"Kiss the Girls" flirts with idea of becoming about something--and then inevitably disappoints as the fire of substance, of significance, of theme and true conflict, is ignored. From a gratuitous opening sequence that seems simply an excuse to show, in cool, flickering montage, unsettling images of brutalized or about-to-be-brutalized women on through to a final tacked-on twist and shout, the story is all surface and contrivance. Hollywood clearly boasts some of the most talented filmmakers in the world who have amazing technology and expert craftspeople at their fingertips, and yet it's all wasted on the same, derivative drivel over and again. It sure would be something to see these filmmakers actually make a film instead of a purty peep show. Maybe next time.    Starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes and Tony Goldwyn. Directed by Gary Fleder. Written by David Klass. Produced by David Brown and Joe Wizan. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for terror, violence and language. Running time: 110 min.
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