By its very definition, a thriller should, you know, thrill. It should not only scare its audience with a quick jolt, that sudden noise in the dark that comes from nowhere and fills everywhere, but with its slow burn. It's not enough for a thriller to tell its story, to find the bodies and hunt the murderer and solve the crime. Thrillers must build deliberately, painstakingly, thoughtfully. The audience should be every bit as terrified as the characters on the screen: We must taste their fear, feel their hearts race, touch their blood. A thriller that can't get you terrified is like a lover who can't get you hot.
Kiss the Girls happens to be exactly that kind of impotent undertaking, a movie that leaves you wondering what the fuss was all about when its end credits appear; it's a mishmash of a dozen other, better films ground up and then watered down -- Seven, Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter, to name a few of the usual suspects. It's also the sort of movie that confuses unpredictability with vagueness, making for a viewing experience about as thrilling as an NBC Sunday-night movie starring Tori Spelling or some other Beverly Hills 90210 refugee.
Morgan Freeman plays Alex Cross, a forensic detective from Washington, D.C., who's also a best-selling crime author and a widower with two kids -- though you'd never know the latter if you've never read ad-executive-turned-"writer" James Patterson's novel. (In adapting Patterson's book, screenwriter David Klass apparently just omitted every other word.) Alex is the kind of guy who can go from coaching little kids one second to talking a potential suicide into taking the gun out of her mouth the next; wearing his black leather sport coat and driving his black Porsche, Alex has enough bedside manner to charm a corpse.
He is drawn to Durham, North Carolina, when his violinist/college student niece, Naomi (Gina Ravera), goes missing. But Naomi's kidnapping is just one small part of a larger crime, as Alex discovers when he shows up at the Durham police station and finds detectives Nick Ruskin (Cary Elwes) and Davey Sikes (Alex McArthur) investigating the disappearances of eight young women and the deaths of two others. The man they're looking for leaves notes at the crime scenes signed "Casanova," and according to one detective, "he's a real student of the game and an enthusiastic rapist."
Casanova's next victim is Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd), a surgeon who channels her sexual frustrations through kickboxing -- meaning she's tough and celibate and good with sharp objects. Casanova -- who wears a Phantom of the Opera mask and speaks in hushed, threatening tones -- keeps Kate in a cage filled with a few of her personal belongings: some clothes, a mobile hanging above her bed, a copy of All the Pretty Horses (heeey -- another overrated book in which things happen for no good reason). But you know no rusty cage is gonna hold Kate: She busts loose, jumps in the river to avoid her captor (in a scene straight out of The Fugitive), hooks up with Alex, and tries to lead the good guy to the bad guy -- or guys, as the case may be, since it turns out a serial killer in L.A. who calls himself "The Gentleman Caller" may or may not be Casanova ... or his partner ... or, like, something.
Fact is, Alex Cross has got to be one of the dumbest cops around. He never calls for backup, lets two serial killers escape twice, can't figure out if the Gentleman Caller is Casanova or someone else, and lets the villains know he's coming by firing his gun at nothing; the real mystery is how he keeps his job. Kate's no better. She may be smart, but she never learned to turn the lights on in the house when she fears there may be a prowler lurking in the shadows. Scream apparently never made it to Durham.
There's no depth to the characters, no emotion vested in their plight (the book's subplot about Kate and Alex's love affair is thrown out, which is just as well). We're never told why Casanova kidnaps for love or why the Gentleman Caller cuts off his victims' feet; and when Casanova is revealed to us in the final moments, his identity makes no sense because never, not for one single second, are we given any clue to his (OK -- or her) motivations. Instead, we're tossed a bunch of obvious suspects and a bunch of silly clues while the filmmakers throw us so far off course we're in another movie by the time this one ends. The film explains nothing -- not because it treats the audience intelligently, but because it feels haphazard and inexplicable. The bad guys kill ... well, just because. And there's nothing thrilling about that.
Kiss the Girls.
Directed by Gary Fleder. With Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes, Alex McArthur, Tony Goldwyn and Jay O. Sanders.
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