What hath "The Silence of the Lambs" wrought?
It was inevitable, when that film swept the 1991 Academy Awards, that a bevy of imitators would begin to clog the production pipeline, the drain screen of which let "Seven" escape onto screens in 1995.
As if that particular abomination weren't enough, another has slipped through Hollywood's dubious quality-control system. "Kiss the Girls," an adaptation of the James Patterson novel directed by Gary Fleder, takes sadistic crypto-sexism to new depths (which happen to be attractively appointed with Gothically dripping candles and Craftsman sconces). It's made all the more egregious by the presence of such intelligent actors as Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. What these two class acts are doing in a piece of such derivative, depraved and ridiculously suspenseful rubbish defies explanation.
Freeman, who coincidentally co-conspired to perpetrate "Seven" on the American people, plays Patterson's character Alex Cross, a Washington, D.C., forensic detective and best-selling crime author. When Alex's niece, a college student in North Carolina, turns up missing, he flies down to follow the case firsthand. Right away he discovers that she is but the latest of a long string of young women who have gone missing in recent weeks, three of whom have been found dead and tied to a tree.
With the help of Dr. Kate Mctiernan (Judd), a gutsy young doctor and the one woman who managed to escape the clutches of the murderer (who signs his communiques to the police department "Casanova"), Alex sets out to save his niece before she meets an assuredly grisly end, circumventing both the FBI and the local police department while he does so.
Leave it to the semioticians to decode the curious power of male rape fantasies and the movie business' insistence on exploiting them in grindingly unoriginal ways. "Kiss the Girls," which was adapted for the screen by David Klass, fails in even more superficial ways. It certainly doesn't work as a mystery: Alex solves most of it in one fell Web-surf, and after one red herring (which conveniently involves lots of dirty dialogue from a tweedy Marquis de Sade), Casanova can be identified simply on the basis of elimination. What might have been a strong relationship between Alex and Kate falls by the wayside of cross-country trips and long, dangerous walks in the woods that they are much too smart to take.
Instead of true suspense or a textured story, the filmmakers rely on the titillation of sexual violence to string viewers along. This nasty conceit is made even more objectionable by making Ashley Judd -- who turns in a startlingly honest, powerful performance in spite of the material -- its intended victim.
Bandwagoneers like "Kiss the Girls" and "Seven" fail to realize that "The Silence of the Lambs" succeeded by playing our primal and intellectual instincts against each other rather than merely tweaking our blood lust, throwing in some latent misogyny and taking the hindmost. As one observer in "Kiss the Girls" notes, "The real Casanova would never have approved." Neither would the real "Silence of the Lambs."
'Kiss the Girls'
Starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd
Directed by Gary Fleder
Released by Paramount
Rated R (terror, violence and language)
Sun score * 1/2
Pub Date: 10/03/97