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Demanding Viewers Had Better Stick with the Original
on 18 October 2013
Kiss of Death. This stylish 1995 crime thriller is based on the same story as the classic 1947 Hollywood film noir,of the same name. The 101 minute drama features an unusually star-laden cast, and, at a cost of $40 million, with returns of $14 million, was not judged a success.
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.