MOVIE REVIEW : 'Kiss Me a Killer' Darkly Amusing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the steamy, darkly amusing "Kiss Me a Killer" (selected theaters) director Marcus De Leon and his co-writer Christopher Wooden have in effect set down "The Postman Always Rings Twice" in East Los Angeles. The result is a contemporary film noir with a salsa beat, modestly budgeted but resourcefully made, in which the comic moments are deliberate, a nod to audiences in acknowledging that the plot twists and genre conventions of the B picture are awfully, awfully familiar. What is most refreshing, however, is that in the wake of Cheech Marin's "Born in East L.A." we now have another mainstream movie with Chicano characters minus the usual gang warfare.

Julie Carmen stars as the beautiful but miserable, overworked wife of the Anglo proprietor (Guy Boyd) of an Eastside bar. Carmen's gratitude to Boyd for rescuing her from a life as a stripper has faded now that her paunchy, loudmouth husband has become his own best customer. Then one day a handsome drifter (Robert Beltran) with a shady past saunters in, becoming the cafe's quickly popular singer/janitor--and inevitably, Carmen's lover.

"Kiss Me a Killer," which has a terrific pulsating score by Nigel Holten and apt special songs by Marcos Loya, tends to be repetitive in its nightclub musical sequences and in Carmen and Beltran's heavy-breathing R-rated love-making. But the film is ingenious not only in the obligatory convoluted plotting but in working in a Catholic guilt motif. Another plus is Nancy Schreiber's fluid, appropriately moody camera work.

Best of all are the film's key performances. Carmen makes the conflicting emotions that the wife experiences very real; Boyd's husband is so open and naive in his boorishness and even at times well-meaning in his clumsy, possessive way that you can't really dislike him; and Beltran, so very good in Paul Bartel's "Eating Raoul" and "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills," reveals genuine star quality with his dashing, charismatic presence.

'Kiss Me a Killer'

Julie Carmen: Teresa Bozeman

Robert Beltran: Tony Montero

Guy Boyd: Jake Bozman

Ramon Franco: Ramon

A Concorde Films presentation of a Califilm production. Director Marcus De Leon. Producer Catherine Cyran. Executive producer Mike Elliott. Screenplay by Christopher Wooden, De Leon. Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. Editor Glen Garland. Costumes Meta Jardine. Music Nigel Holten. Production design James R. Shumaker. Art director Amy B. Ancona. Set decorator Aaron Osborne. Sound Christopher Taylor. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for strong sensuality and for violence and language).

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