Well-crafted and competently acted, KILL ME AGAIN is anything but a terrible film; however, like so many other films that have struggled mightily to pay homage to the great films noir of the past, it fails to come to life on its own terms.
The story opens promisingly, with thrill-hungry cutie Fay (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) and her handsome but half-witted boy friend, Vince (Michael Madsen), staging a robbery of a roadhouse-casino that escalates into a bloody shootout, resulting in the death of a mob collection man. In a rare moment of
sanity, Vince plans for the couple to hide out in the heartland until the heat dies down, but Fay, ill-suited to the pastoral life, demands her share of the loot, intent on heading for Nevada. When Vince testily disagrees, Fay settles the argument by applying a large rock to the back of his head,
then takes off for Reno. After glimpsing a tabloid headline about her criminal exploits, Fay offers down-and-out private eye Jack (Val Kilmer, Whalley-Kilmer's real-life spouse) $10,000--the amount he owes some very mean loan sharks--to fabricate evidence of her death so that she can create a new
identity and make good her escape. Rechristened Vera Billings, Fay ditches Jack, having paid him only half of what she owes him and having thoughtfully left behind evidence implicating Jack in her "murder." For the rest of the film, Jack chases Fay while the police, the mob, and Vince chase Jack.
If nothing else, KILL ME looks and sounds great. Jacques Steyn's cinematography brings a harsh, surreal beauty to the forgotten corners of Nevada where the action is set, and William Olvis' score is rich, romantic, and foreboding in the noir tradition. But the film suffers throughout because of a
clash between the old-fashioned style of the storytelling and the contemporary morality of the script. It doesn't help matters much that the film's "hero by default," Jack, is thinly conceived. All that is really revealed about him is that he's a loser; having lost both his wife and his business
(which he doesn't seem to have been very good at in the first place), Jack doesn't want anything beyond the money Fay owes him. Even his short-lived affair with her lacks passion, despite Whalley-Kilmer's incendiary good looks.
High on technique but low on idiosyncratic artistry, the performances are generally disappointing. Although a capable actor, Kilmer is unconvincing here as a gumshoe on the skids--too healthy for the part, with bland, boy-next-door good looks. His energetic presence was perfect for his roles in
the underrated comedies TOP SECRET! and REAL GENIUS, but here Kilmer just looks out of place, seemingly incapable of suggesting the grubby desperation his character requires. The kittenish Whalley-Kilmer also fails to convince as KILL ME AGAIN's wanton woman, with the problem again being too much
technique and not enough genuine heat. Similarly, Madsen is effective as the violent bully, but without ever conveying the kind of inspired craziness that would place him among the ranks of truly scary movie villains.
Though the script by director John Dahl and coproducer David W. Warfield is more imaginative than those of most similar genre efforts, it lacks urgency, playing out more like cleverly constructed clockwork than as an edge-of-the-seat thriller. KILL ME AGAIN marks the feature debuts of both Dahl
and Warfield, and both show some promise; however, their debut too nearly resembles a film-school project. Full of witty references to other films, it will keep hardcore movie buffs searching their memories through multiple viewings, but more casual viewers may find it a slow-moving, mannered dud.
(Sexual situations, violence, profanity.)
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