Thursday, March 17, 2016

Off the Shelf: Kill Me Again (Blu-ray)

by Patrick Bromley
Her last request was his first mistake.

No filmmaker can claim more credit for the early '90s revival of the neo noir than John Dahl. Between Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, Dahl practically ushered in a subgenre unto himself -- the John Dahl movie. Though his noirish tendencies would find their way into his later, more high-profile work like Unforgettable, Rounders and Joyride (his first three features were barely released, discovering their audiences on cable), it was really his first three movies that created the template for the John Dahl movie. And it all started with 1989's Kill Me Again.

Dahl's debut feature marks the second and final onscreen pairing of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley (at the time Joanne Whalley Kilmer, having married her co-star after falling in love on the set of Willow). She plays Fay, a standard issue femme fatale who pulls off a robbery with her crazy, abusive boyfriend (a young Michael Madsen) and then double crosses him and steals the money. To ensure that he won't come looking for her, she hires Jack (Val Kiler), a private investigator indebted to the mob, to stage her death. This being a film noir, we know that no one is getting off that easy.
Kill Me Again is a perfectly serviceable neo noir: it hits the beats it needs to hit, it's relatively stylish and at just over 90 minutes long goes down easy. The movie's big stumble is that it's not enough of any of the things it needs to be. It's stylish, but not stylish enough. It's sexy, but not sexy enough. Kilmer plays a traditional noir hero, but not enough of a traditional noir hero. He's not the easily manipulated fool in the tradition of Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity (or even William Hurt in Body Heat), nor is he of the hard boiled Ralph Meeker variety. Kilmer tries to create a character whose jaded and knows he's being worked, but there's very little in his performance that suggests that he's that cynical or playing an angle. He just comes off as dull and a little grouchy. Truth be told, he seems miscast.

If nothing else, Kill Me Again helps make the case that Joanne Whalley should have had a bigger career. She's worked a ton and been in a lot of stuff -- maybe she's had the exact career that she wanted -- but aside from this movie and Scandal she rarely got a role this substantial. For the first half of Kill Me Again, Whalley really works it; in the grand tradition of femme fatales, she transforms herself into whatever she suspects men want her to be in order to get what she needs from them -- sometimes the doe and sometimes the snake. She's let down by the movie's second half, which shoves her aside to focus more on Kilmer's point of view; unsurprisingly, this is also when the movie gets less interesting. While Whalley isn't on the level of Linda Fiorentino in Dahl's The Last Seduction (and to be fair, hardly anyone is; that woman is a force of nature in that film), she gets off to good start before diminished screen time and convoluted plot twists get in her way. There's a reason the movie is called Kill Me Again.
Kill Me Again is like a lot of first films: it sets a tone, it establishes a voice but plays in many ways like a rough draft of what would come later. It's fun to see Michael Madsen doing an early version of the psycho criminal he would play throughout the '90s and Whalley does some nice work, but there are too many other good neo-noirs of the period -- several of them directed by John Dahl -- to give this one too strong a recommendation. Fans of the actors or of the subgenre may be interested, but everyone else can catch it on cable.

Blu-ray release date: March 22, 2016
95 minutes/1989/R
1.85:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Blu-ray bonus features: Trailer

Buy Kill Me Again from Olive Films here.

5 comments:

  1. "The movie's big stumble is that it's not enough of any of the things it needs to be," Had the same reaction watching THE LAST BOY SCOUT the other night. Nice work, Patrick.

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  2. Dahl is one of those filmmakers that rarely gets mentioned in discussion of this genre. The films you mention are Neo-Noir classics in their own right and even almost 10 years old now (geez) his last film "You Kill Me" was a nice little sleeper that I enjoyed. "Last Seduction" is the finest, "Kill me Again" would be second on my list.

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  5. Totally underrated talent. This one and Red Rock West are little jewels. Master classes on script writing. A small puzzle after another, a progressive escalation of conflict within conflict and everything drowned in a sea of cool. This movie has the second best Madsen. (You can´t top his awesomeness in Reservoir Dogs)

    Rounders is good too.

    Watching movies like the Wolf of Wall Street, with its astronomical void of entertainment boringly filled with drugs and sex, makes me wonder about audiences today and the whole movie industry.

    You may have someone willing to do a piece like Red Rock or Kill me again. But could you get Dennis Hopper, Nicholas Cage, Madsen, Kilmer, Lara Boyle, etc? Charisma is a nonrenewable resource, clearly.

    90s were the last breath. Who would give today so much money to a crazy German so he can go out and film a Nazi gore action piece about giant bugs in outer space?
    Last decade where Hollywood still cared about talent, or at least people in charge knew something about story telling besides marketing.

    People like John Dahl could make a living back then, and a killing too.

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