Kiss Of Death [DVD] 
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Former car thief Jimmy Kilmartin (David Caruso) ends up in jail after accompanying his cousin Ronny (Michael Rappaport) on a truck-stealing job. A cop, Calvin (Samuel L. Jackson), is wounded, and Jimmy takes the rap. While Jimmy is inside, Ronny is killed by gangster Little Junior (Nicolas Cage). When Jimmy is released, the District Attorney asks him to go undercover in Little Junior's club in an attempt to put Little Junior behind bars. Just to complicate matters, Jimmy's police 'minder' turns out to be none other than Calvin.
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David Caruso plays Jimmy Kilmartin an ex-con, caught red-handed during a heist, who tries to distance himself from his past upon his release and lead an honorable life. But he reluctantly agrees to help Ronnie Gannon, (Michael Rapaport, Terminator 3 / The 6th Day / Last Action Hero ), his loser cousin, with one last heist that goes wrong. He refuses to rat out his underworld pals, but turns stoolie after they renege on their promises to him. Coerced by Frank Zioli, (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games (2 Disc) , ), an ambitious prosecutor, he agrees to play the pawn in a police plot to bring down Little Junior Brown, (Nicholas Cage, Justice ), a psychotic gangster. Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets , plays Jimmy's wife Bev; Samuel L. Jackson,Soul Men , plays Calvin Hart, an angry cop. Ving Rhames plays Omar, a psychotic Philadelphia-based mobster. Philip Baker Hall plays Big Junior Brown; Anthony Heald plays a fed. Comedienne Anne Meara plays Bev's mother.
Not a bad cast, and by and large, well-acted. As the lead, Caruso was very good at intensity and suffering stoically when receiving filmic punishment. He was paid $1 M for this gig, which he squeezed in in the hiatus between the first and short-lived second season of the phenomenally successful television show NYPD Blue - Series One. As many viewers will remember, he soon left the TV series in order to pursue a full-time film career, which failed to go anywhere. He doesn't really carry this picture very well. (Personally, I've always thought he was just too much of a skinny malink, as we used to say in Brooklyn, to play substantial roles.)
In fact, the acting in the '95 film just doesn't compare to the '47 take. Richard Widmark nabbed an Oscar for his memorable debut as the sadistic mobster; Victor Mature turned in star-caliber work as the two bit hood. Brian Donlevy and Coleen Gray added heft. Both versions were based on a story by Bronxite Eleazar Lipsky. The '47 screenplay was by the near-legendary team of Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, directed by Henry Hathaway. The '95 version was by acclaimed Bronx, New York-born novelist Richard Price, no slouch at depicting the underworld, directed by the respected Barbet Schroeder. Both versions well-written and -directed. They transmit the look of the New York of their times; the less picturesque bits that tourists never see. The newer is, of course, in color, while the older is in black and white, perhaps more suited to the city. The newer version also has a lot more profanity, blood and gore, which, I guess, are not to everyone's taste. Still, it's OK, but I expect demanding viewers had better stick with the original.
Reformed ex-con Jimmy Kilmartin (Caruso) reluctantly helps out his cousin transporting stolen cars but gets caught and ends up taking the fall for the whole caper. Back in prison and missing his wife and child, Jimmy gets offered a lifeline if he is prepared to go undercover with the police to bring down psychotic crime boss Little Junior Brown (Cage).
A loose remake of the excellent 1947 film noir of the same name, Schroeder's Kiss of Death is slightly better than the iffy reputation afforded it. Yes it's more solid than anything resembling truly compelling, but it wears its noir heart on its sleeve and is very well performed by an impressive cast.
Caruso's Kilmartin is a classic noir protagonist, a man who tries to go straight but gets dragged into a world of crime and shifty undercover machinations after doing one honest intention favour. From the point he agrees to help out Ronnie Gannon (Rapaport a jumping bean performance), he loses what he holds most dear and continually gets pulled from pillar to post by everyone around him. He's basically a good guy that fate has dealt a deadly hand, even when he gets a second chance at happiness it's not long before the door knocks and he's thrust into a deadly undercover game where he will be lucky to escape with his life intact.
A lot has been made of TV star Caruso's unsuccessful attempt at breaking into films, with some believing that his performance here is mostly to blame. Yet in the context of a noir protagonist his performance is perfectly good, in fact it's a very subtle turn that isn't short on brooding intensity. That he is overshadowed by the likes of Cage (wonderfully on full tilt overdrive as a nut-case) and Jackson (calm yet assured presence) is no bad thing, especially since both come with noir infected ticks (Jackson has a continuous weeping eye/Cage has a phobia about metal in his mouth). Caruso does good here, bringing the character to life without histrionics, he helps the audience understand his frustration as he spins in his vortex of disharmony.
Nobody is done any favours by a screenplay that doesn't take chances, and at times it comes close to standing still in the mid-section, while the climax is a little underwhelming. But for a piece of pulpy neo-noir it has enough about it to make it worth a look. 6.5/10
The stand out scenes go to Nicholas Cage as the sadistic gangster of the piece.
David Caruso is fine as the lead, playing a desperate man caught between the law and the criminal mob lead by Cage, Samuel L Jackson is always good support, but this should have given them all better to work with.
The film is very dialogue heavy, very little action and despite a passable plot, not really that involving.
Worth a watch, but this and some other (flop) efforts were meant to cement Caruso as a genuine movie star, it didn't. Still seems Cage and Jackson did alright.
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