Friday October 3, 1997
Longtime Hollywood producer David Brown says in the production notes for "Kiss the Girls" that he had been so frightened by John Patterson's source novel that he had to close the blinds in his house while reading it. That's a strange reaction to a story in which the only victims are beautiful young women. Maybe he was afraid someone would break in and steal his wife Helen Gurley Brown's collection of Cosmo covers.
In any event, "Kiss the Girls" is a genuine page-turner of a movie thriller, and if Brown needn't worry about his safety, it will certainly inspire some blinds-closing and double-checking of door locks for a lot of female viewers.
Directed by talented newcomer Gary Fleder ("Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"), "Kiss the Girls" is a psychopath-on-the-loose movie in the urgent, heavy-breathing mode of "The Silence of the Lambs." Young, pretty, bright women are disappearing in both California and North Carolina, their bodies occasionally turning up in the woods, where they have been raped, bound to trees, had their hair shorn and been left to die.
One of the missing victims in North Carolina is the niece of a brilliant nationally known police detective and forensic psychologist named Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), who takes leave of his job in Washington to put his own expertise on the case. After striking a fragile agreement with the local authorities, Cross begins finding clues where no one else had thought to look.
Like "The Silence of the Lambs," "Kiss the Girls" is a genre film done as a match of super-intelligence. Cross is up against a sick but agile mind--maybe more than one--and must trust his own deductive reasoning skills against the perverse gamesmanship of his prey. Of course, those skills have never been tested in a case that's personal, and his emotions become his greatest obstacle.
Freeman, who brings intelligence and physical assurance to every role he plays, is perfectly cast as the conflicted psychologist, and he's ably supported by co-star Ashley Judd, playing Kate McTiernan, a young surgeon who escapes her captor and joins forces with Cross to rescue the other victims.
Fleder has directed three-quarters of a terrific movie and one-quarter of pure Hollywood baloney. After carefully building up the suspense and tension through Cross and McTiernan's search, spiked with nail-biting encounters on both coasts, Fleder lets it trail off in anti-climax and banal violence. I didn't read the novel, but the movie creates no profile of the eventual villain. You don't look back and say, "Oh, yeah," because there was no groundwork laid.
All we really know is that the kidnapper collects women he thinks he's in love with and kills them when they disappoint him. With some other ending, that wouldn't be a bad thing, because the pleasure of the movie comes out of the psychology of Cross and McTiernan and their interdependent relationship.
Fleder has Jonathan Demme's knack for insinuating a sense of actual danger in situations that should overtax the imagination. Even McTiernan's physical stamina, her ability to fight her way free from a powerful man, is developed in ways that makes it completely believable when it occurs.
The overdone ending is the norm in Hollywood these days. Whether it's audience research, bad writing or simply not knowing when to say when, it has turned a lot of potentially good movies into very ordinary ones, and "Kiss the Girls" is the latest victim.
Morgan Freeman: Alex Cross, 1997. R for terror, violence and language. Paramount Pictures presents in association with Rysher Entertainment, a David Brown-Joe Wizan Production. Director Gary Fleder. Producer David Brown and Joe Wizan. Screenplay David Klass, based on the novel by James Patterson. Photography Aaron Schneider. Production designer Nelson Coates. Costumes Abigail Murray. Music Mark Isham. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Ashley Judd as Kate McTiernan. Cary Elwes as Nick Rushin. Alex McArthur as Sikes. Tony Goldwyn as Will Rudolph. Jay O. Sanders as Kyle Craig.