Kiss of Death is a diverting little crime thriller from the brief mid-nineties period where a few people thought David Caruso might actually become a movie star (this was his first lead role after infamously quitting NYPD Blue). Kiss of Death came from veteran director Barbet Schroeder, and is a loose remake of a 1947 film noir of the same name, this version has a very ‘nineties’ feel to it though.
Caruso stars as Jimmy Kilmartin, a small time criminal an ex-con who’s living with his wife (Helen Hunt) and daughter trying to go straight. He accepts a job one night moving stolen vehicles which goes wrong, attracting the police’s attention. Things go from bad to worse for Jimmy when guns start firing, and he soon winds up back in jail after refusing to turn in the gangsters he was working for. Forced to take a job while he’s inside, his wife soon dies in a car accident, changing everything for Jimmy. He then agrees to go undercover for the cops upon his release.
Kiss of Death is populated with a host of familiar faces, Ving Rhames, Stanley Tucci, Michael Rapaport and Samuel L. Jackson all have significant roles. In fact, it’s a bit odd to see Caruso having top billing. Jackson gives a solid performance as a vengeful Detective who must learn to work with Jimmy, but the stand-out supporting players are Tucci’s cocky prosecutor and Silence of the Lambs star Anthony Heald as a despicable criminal lawyer.
I’ve got this far without even mentioning Nicolas Cage though, and that’s hardly appropriate. He plays the primary villain, an unpredictable, violent, asthmatic, white-clad gangster named ‘Little Junior’. It’s a suitably manic role and Cage is effectively unsettling yet always fun to watch. This was ‘crazy’ Cage performance before he became more notorious for such roles, and this was the film he made immediately prior to his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas.
As we all know, Caruso didn’t make in movies and returned to TV a short while later, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s not the most compelling of leads, but Kiss of Death is a fast-moving thriller that packs a ton of plot into its relatively short run time. Aside from Cage’s memorable mobster, there isn’t much here you wouldn’t find in another undercover cop/gangster movie, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable film.