Tag Archives: Helen Hunt

Kiss of Death (1995, Barbet Schroeder)

Kiss of Death takes place over four years, has eight to ten significant characters, and runs an hour and forty minutes. It skips ahead three years at the forty-five minute mark. And the last twenty minutes could have their own movie, as David Caruso returns to the city to face Nicolas Cage, who knows Caruso snitched on him only it’s never clear how he knows or to what extent.

And it’s important to look at why it’s unclear because Richard Price wrote this Kiss of Death–I’m a Price aficionado–but Price also wrote it like a novel. Then he cut a bunch out of a four-hour miniseries, threw in some more scenes of Cage’s absurd villain who isn’t actually a character so much as an unthinking monster moving his way through the film, and called it… well, probably not good, but called it a movie. Only it’s not a movie, especially not with Schroeder directing.

Kiss of Death is a remake of film noir and, in updating noir, Schroeder basically dumps anything related to the genre in terms of visual style. Luciano Tovoli’s photography is technically fantastic, but it has no personality. The film opens on this fantastic tracking shot of an auto yard, which figures into the fates of Caruso, Cage, and everyone else in the film only Schroeder’s got no visual style to tie it in. It’s like doing a Touch of Evil homage without understanding how it works for the viewer. It feels tacked on and generic, like almost everything else in the picture.

But, you know, Schroeder’s not terrible, he just doesn’t know what to do with this movie. He directs maybe four of the actors well. And never Caruso, who’s going through all these physicality bits–trying to do more with saying less–only Schroeder doesn’t seem to pick up on them. Caruso’s walking away in a medium long shot physically reacting to something and Schroeder doesn’t want to concentrate on Caruso. He doesn’t understand how to make Caruso the protagonist given the depth of supporting characterization. It’s kind of a mess.

Caruso’s okay. He’s best with Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kathryn Erbe. His scenes with Michael Rapaport and Stanley Tucci are too forced, either by script, direction, or Caruso himself. It’s an okay performance, not great, but with glimpses of great. Cage is in a similar boat. The actor, the script, and the director are all in disagreement about how to portray the character. When it’s Cage and Caruso together, Kiss of Death is at its best. There are lots of contrary things going on and the actors are still working so it creates a tone for the film, which otherwise has none.

Jackson’s got some really good moments, same for Erbe, though she’s utterly unappreciated. Actually, Helen Hunt’s unappreciated with some really good moments too. It’s kind of like Kiss of Death has too many good actors without enough material for them to do, so Price hints at better stuff off screen and then Schroeder’s not good enough at the on screen. Kiss of Death is its own worst enemy.

Michael Rapaport’s probably gives the film’s best performance as an annoying worm of a sociopath. Stanley Tucci’s fun as a righteous but greedy district attorney. Anthony Heald’s phenomenal as the mob lawyer. He gets two scenes. Just watching him and Tucci argue in front of a judge could carry a movie.

Lee Percy’s editing is a tad fast-paced. Trevor Jones’s music is a disaster.

Kiss of Death has too much potential, too little ambition, and some rather good performances (all things considered).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Barbet Schroeder; screenplay by Richard Price, based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky and the 1947 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Lee Percy; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Schroeder and Susan Hoffman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Jimmy), Samuel L. Jackson (Calvin), Nicolas Cage (Little Junior), Helen Hunt (Bev), Kathryn Erbe (Rosie), Stanley Tucci (Zioli), Michael Rapaport (Ronnie), Anthony Heald (Gold) and Ving Rhames (Omar).


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Trancers III (1992, C. Courtney Joyner)

There’s a certain exhaustion about Trancers III. Director Joyner doesn’t have much chemistry with star Tim Thomerson, leading to way too much time spent on the evil super-soldiers. This Trancers sequel, in addition to a really lame Terminator 2 vibe with a novelty android, is all about explaining the origins of Trancers. But not in an interesting way, but a really boring one.

Thomerson and Helen Hunt, on the rocks since the previous sequel, get one scene together. Hunt has two scenes (one on the phone with Thomerson) but only the one actual scene. She tries really hard, but there’s no way to make anything out of it. Joyner is awkward at integrating information from the previous movies, which means dialogue problems, and he’s bad at directing the actors trying to articulate that dialogue.

It should be sad, seeing the heart of the franchise fizzle out, but it’s not because by the time Hunt and Thomerson have their moment, Trancers III is already in the dumps. It starts in the dumps, what with the secret military experiment laboratory underneath a strip club. Actually, maybe Trancers III starting with that tell tale sign of trouble–a “theme by” music credit, which means the filmmakers weren’t able to bring back the original series composer–it lowers expectations. Then there’s a dumb TV commercial with Thomerson advertising his PI business (a Robocop nod) before he disappears, except a weak voice over. Joyner doesn’t know how to make Thomerson fun. It’s not a question of trying to make him funny, it’s about making Trancers and Thomerson fun. Joyner fails at it.

Real quick–Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s the evil mad scientist, only he’s a macho army guy mad scientist, which should be funny. It’s not. Maybe if Adolfo Bartoli were a better photographer, the bad sets would look better but he isn’t. And Robinson’s performance suffers. He’s going crazy–his accent goes from country to Scottish and back again–it just doesn’t amount to anything.

Melanie Smith is okay as Thomerson’s new sidekick, but not really any good. She’s okay for the Trancers III regular cast, who are mostly bad. Decent cameo from Stephen Macht though and it’s fun to see Telma Hopkins. Megan Ward’s bad, unfortunately. Not really her fault, but she’s still bad.

There’s no reason for a Trancers III, so if you’re going to make one, don’t make it lame. There’s just no reason to make such a lame Trancers movie. It wastes Thomerson, it wastes Hunt, it wastes Robinson.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner; screenplay by Joyner, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lauren A. Schaffer and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band, Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Milo; produced by Albert Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Melanie Smith (R.J.), Andrew Robinson (Col. Daddy Muthuh), Tony Pierce (Jason), Stephen Macht (Harris) and Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines).


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Trancers II (1991, Charles Band)

Without its cast, Trancers II couldn’t possibly succeed. It’s an unfortunately limited success as is, but without everyone’s enthusiasm–regardless whether they have a good role or not–the film just couldn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of charm to Trancers II, but only the cast is actually able to deliver on any of its potential.

Jackson Barr’s screenplay, for example, is pretty solid. It’s not great, but it gives all the characters something to do–well, most of them. It’s director Band who screws up the execution of it; all of the film, he goes between this boring close-up one shots on each actor. It’s not editors Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou’s faults, it’s pretty obvious there’s just not the coverage. And it sucks because there’s a lot of good work and even more potential to Trancers II.

I mean, for a very cheap, awkwardly (in terms of acknowledging it) campy, sci-fi thriller, it’s got a lot of potential. Certainly for better parts for its cast, who do a lot with often very little. Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Biff Manard are all good. Manard’s performance suffers because of Band’s direction. Thomerson and Hunt run into the limits of Barr’s screenplay–and how Band directs those scenes–but they’re good. Richard Lynch is good as the bad guy. Alyson Croft is good as future cop Thomerson’s partner’s teenage ancestor. Megan Ward is all right as Thomerson’s future wife (Hunt being his modern day wife). She tries. She doesn’t get the support she needs from Band, but Ward does try.

Phil Davies and Mark Ryder’s music is occasionally good, occasionally bad, often mediocre. But there are some definitely high points. Bland photography from Adolfo Bartoli doesn’t help matters. Not to mention Band wasting Jeffrey Combs.

Trancers II is this odd but great concept poorly executed.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; screenplay by Jackson Barr, based on a story by Barr and Band and characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Kathleen Coates; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena Deth), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Biff Manard (Hap Ashby), Art LaFleur (Old McNulty), Alyson Croft (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines), Martine Beswick (Nurse Trotter), Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Pyle), Sonny Carl Davis (Rabbit) and Richard Lynch (Dr. Wardo).


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Trancers: City of Lost Angels (1988, Charles Band)

Tracers: City of Lost Angels was originally intended to be part of an anthology film but it doesn’t feel much like a short subject. With the obviously limited budget, director Band treats it like a television production more than a film. Most of the action plays out in one or two of the sets. It’s all very constrained.

It’s also rather intelligently handled. Without any budget, the story mostly involves Tim Thomerson’s problems with girlfriend Helen Hunt. He’s from the future, living in his ancestor’s body, she has to be the breadwinner–it’s a difficult situation all around. Thomerson and Hunt (who’s basically just cameoing) are both wonderful. Writers Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson frequently surprise with the character developments.

Lost Angels is a fine effort. The sincerity and the concept–spoofing hard-boiled detectives, but without drawing too much attention to the absurdities–work out surprisingly well (awkward plotting aside, of course).

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; written by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; music by Mark Ryder and Phil Davies; production designer, Giovanni Natalucci; released by Full Moon Features.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Leena), Art LaFleur (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Engineer Raines), Alyson Croft (Baby McNulty), Grace Zabriskie (Warden) and Velvet Rhodes (Edlin Shock).


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