KISS Before Dying'' is a neatly written, nicely paced murder melodrama that fully justifies its 95 minutes length.
Based on the book by Ira Levin (''Rosemary's Baby''), ''A Kiss Before Dying'' raises a few questions, most of which are easily answered or overlooked by those willing to coast with the premise.
It should be easier to go along with the premise of a psychopathic killer today, certainly easier than when the book was first written, or when when the first film version was done in 1956 starring Joanne Woodward and Robert Wagner.
Back in the '50s, psychopaths of the sort found in this film were rare. They were more imaginary than real. Today, we have no trouble believing the young man in this film -- serial killers are not that uncommon anymore. In an odd way, "A Kiss Before Dying'' may have come along a little before its time.
Matt Dillon is the killer, something we know from the very start when he sends his girlfriend to her death by pushing her off a high landing in Philadelphia. The murder is dismissed as a suicide.
This accomplished, the killer moves to New York where he assumes the identity of someone he meets along the road. Later, he arranges to meet and court the twin sister of the woman he has killed.
He has something in mind. He wants the girl's fortune, but first he must manage a position with her father's firm. The surviving twin sister, not satisfied that her sister has committed suicide, pursues the matter. She looks around, and what she finds is not altogether reassuring.
Sean Young plays the twins, and she is very good as both. She is cool throughout, and that's the way the role should be played. Dillon is equally interesting as the killer. He has matured a bit. He's lost the baby fat and has developed into a very able actor.
James Deardon, who wrote the script for ''Fatal Attraction,'' wrote and directed the new version of ''A Kiss Before Dying.'' He doesn't waste any footage, and while the film has its share of gore, Deardon is reasonably sparing with it. There is, however, plenty to go around. This isn't slice and dice, but it comes close enough.
We may be inclined, however, to forgive him all this. Because his ''Fatal Attraction'' included the familiar, silly ''Friday the 13th'' finish, we expected to see more of the same in the new film. We do not, and for this we are grateful.
Apart from the gore, it is very much like the murder melodramas DTC of old, and that is no casual compliment. The film opens at area theaters today.
"A Kiss Before Dying" *** A serial killer murders a young woman then courts the victim's twin sister.
CAST: Sean Young, Matt Dillon, Max Von Sydow, Diane Ladd, James Russo
DIRECTOR: James Dearden
RATING: R (sex, nudity, language, violence)
( RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes