Film Scouts Reviews

"Kiss the Girls"

by Richard Schwartz

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Shaky P.O.V. camera angles document a forest chase that ends in a jump off a high riverside cliff. A detective traces over evidence again and again until the key piece - plainly before him the entire time - finally clicks in his mind to reveal the killer's identity. An unsuspecting woman hands a sharp knife to a kitchen helper who also happens to be a psychotic murderer. This movie seems to have it all.

In "Kiss the Girls," the familiar conventions roll on and on. "Scream" mocked these plot devices, but directors such as Gary Fleder obviously weren't paying due attention and their work looks ever sillier and more preposterous in its use of such well-worn archetypes. Of course, "Kiss the Girls" didn't have much place to go from the start, trapped in the unsatisfying framework initially laid by novelist James Patterson. Yet Fleder's direction fails to yield anything even remotely suspenseful or inventive, leaving the viewer wanting in the face of quality performances by the leads.

Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) is a D.C.-based author, detective and all-around forensic superstar who travels down to North Carolina's "Research Triangle" when his niece becomes the latest in a line of coeds to mysteriously disappear. In working independently of the foot-draggingly inefficient local authorities, Cross deduces a profile of a perpetrator intent on assembling a laboratory of beautiful, talented young women under his command. One of those women (a most beautiful and talented Ashley Judd) bravely escapes from the underground holding cell and commits to helping Cross uncover the identity of the twisted kidnapper. Their cross-country manhunt leads them into a few nerve-shaking situations but leaves the ultimate resolution of this tired whodunit to the predictably anti-climactic final scene.

The film flounders not to the fault of Freeman, convincing as a worried uncle and an out-of-town detective clashing with the townie police. But that's just it - the Academy Award-winner is reduced to playing out these tired clichés. Trapped, too, is Judd, playing the strong victim on a vigilante's hunt for justice. When screenwriter David Klass finally shakes her character out of its mold and allows her to show some vulnerability and trustfulness, it's no longer believable.

Wasted performances, predictable plot turns - an ugly body count, to be sure. At least "Kiss the Girls" offers the opportunity to add some new entries to Roger Ebert's famed Little Movie Glossary of hackneyed plot devices. Like the statement "Let's go to L.A!" immediately followed by a shot of a jet touching down on an LAX runway with the words "Los Angeles" superimposed on-screen. Or a victim's press conference in which the announcement "no questions will be taken" is followed by a barrage of queries from insensitive reporters. OrÉ

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