Gimmicks distract from 'Kiss or Kill'

November 28, 1997|By Robert Philpot | Robert Philpot,FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

"Kiss or Kill" is an odd little movie, a self-conscious desert noir with some interesting performances and annoying gimmicks. The acting is improvisational, the editing jumpy, the music score absent -- all elements that are meant to enhance but that often detract.

Behind it is a decent story and a thought-provoking if not entirely original theme: We don't know the people in our lives as well as we think we do. Once you get past the gimmicks, it's fairly entertaining stuff.

Matt Day and Frances O'Connor play lovers Al and Nikki, con artists with a standing scam: Nikki picks up a guy at a hotel bar and slips him a mickey; then Al comes in and they rob the guy. But when a mark keels over in mid-tryst, Al and Nikki end up holding an incriminating videotape and being hunted by cops, an Aborigine tracker and a former football star who has a very strong interest in what's on that tape.

Writer-director Bill Bennett makes this a virtual travelogue for some of the most desolate parts of Australia, as Al and Nikki go on the run through the outback and a series of run-down motels and shacks. Bodies pile up in their wake, and because the two lovers are always separated when the killings occur, they begin to suspect each other. It doesn't help that Nikki has some strange sleepwalking habits, or that Al has a hair-trigger temper.

Day and O'Connor have a natural chemistry, but the movie's improvisation often becomes too noticeable, pulling you out of the story. The best improvisatory moment comes from Chris Haywood and Andrew S. Gilbert, playing two shopworn cops who get into a hilarious conversation that punches across the movie's alienation theme.

The constant jump cuts are meant to keep you off-balance, but they're more likely to give you a case of the visual hiccups.

It's been an interesting year for the desert-noir movie, what with Oliver Stone's "U-Turn" and Jeb Stuart's "Switchback," both of them gimmicky entries. You have to go back to this year's first desert-noir entry, "Breakdown," to find one that gets it right.

"Kiss or Kill" comes close, but its eccentricities eventually lead to its own breakdown.

'Kiss or Kill'

Starring Matt Day, Frances O'Connor

Directed by Bill Bennett

Released by October Films

Rated R (violence, language, sexual situations)

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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