Courtesy Photo
Directed by Gary Fleder

Starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes, Tony Goldwyn, Jay O. Sanders, Bill Nunn & Brian Cox

"Kiss the Girls"

Opened: October 3, 1997 | Rated: R

"Kiss the Girls" made me angry.

For the first 110 minutes it passes itself off as an intelligent, rapt and gripping serial psycho thriller. It has empathetic characters, strong performances and respect for it's audience.

Then it goes straight in the crapper.

Ooooo! I'm just enraged that I sat through two hours of engaging story just to have it all lead to the worst kind of cheap, predictable, recycled, pre-fabricated ending where the psycho shows up at the victim's house for one more lame attempt to pump our adrenaline.

OK. Let me calm down here a second.

"Kiss the Girls" is one of those psycho thrillers in the vein of "Silence of the Lambs" and "Seven". There's a guy who kidnaps pretty, bright young women and holds them captive in some kind of North Carolina dungeon.

The niece of Washington, D.C., forensic pathologist Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) is one of them, and he takes time off to investigate her disappearance personally.

Freeman gives the kind of steady, thoughtful performance that makes him so compelling to watch. As Dr. Cross, he studies this case with a meticulous nature that is clear in his dark, kind and meditative eyes. He is determined to find his niece.

When one of the captive women escapes, a medical intern played by Ashley Judd (also reliably superb), Cross has the key he needs to unraveling the mystery.

The psycho, who melodramatically calls himself Casanova, does rape and drug his victims, keeping them complacent. But director Gary Fleder eschews graphic violence. He demonstrated enough talent to summon the full extent of the terror these women go through with little more than a shot of the bound hands of a corpse.

He has a respect for the audience and gets all the emotional impact from these scenes without the titillation of blood and nudity many of these thrillers, including those as good as "Silence" and "Seven," depend on.

The movie follows Cross and Kate McTiernan (Judd) as they uncover a suspect, but because their aim is to rescue the victims they have to let him play out his next kidnapping, only to discover the plot is much more complicated than they imagined.

"Kiss the Girls" isn't completely fresh, but it is masterfully suspenseful and gripping right up to the point where the movie should have ended.

If you walk out 10 minutes before the end -- you'll know when -- it is a rewarding picture. But stay and you're in for the insulting and tiresome slasher movie scene in which the killer is on the loose and makes one last, desperate attempt to get the one that got away. Morgan Freeman, after a bad guy identity epiphany, has to drive across town to rescue her as if he was incapable of using the telephone.

I got up and walked out, mumbling loudly about how I'd been fooled into thinking I was watching a good movie. I peeked back in after a trip to the can and saw exactly what I expected: the shopworn old stand-off between hero and killer with the girl being used as a pawn. I stomped out of the theater in a very bad mood.

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