When David Caruso made headlines by leaving the hit TV show "NYPD Blue," the question people were asking was "Is he making a mistake?" Looking back on his career the past few years, we have to say that he did. But you couldn't tell that from his performance in "Kiss of Death." He's actually quite good.
Caruso plays Jimmy Kilmartin, a reformed car thief with a wife and baby who is desperately trying to go straight. Before he does, though, he reluctantly agrees to help his worthless cousin Ronny (Michael Rapaport) on one last run. If he doesn't, then Little Junior (Nicholas Cage), a sadistic killer, will bury Ronny. Naturally, things go bad. A cop gets shot and Jimmy ends up taking the fall by himself.
True to his personal code of honor, Jimmy won't rat out the others no matter how hard the sleazy DA (Stanley Tucci) pushes him. Then Ronny starts to move in on Jimmy's wife (Helen Hunt) and things really go wrong. Jimmy agrees to make a deal and cunningly manipulates events so that Little Junior takes Ronny down.
Three years later, Jimmy finally gets out of prison. The DA's not about to let things drop, however. He wants Little Junior bad and he'll do what it take to get him, even if that means using Jimmy and his family.
The plot of "Kiss of Death" is loosely based on the 1947 original-a class film noir-which featured Victor Mature, and Richard Widmark in his star?making role. (Remember his maniacal giggle as he pushed the old lady down the stairs?)
The story's been updated and it is grittier, realer and even more gripping. Novelist Richard Price ("Clockers") wrote the screenplay and he is one of the very best writers working in movies today. He has a true affinity for the seedy side of life and the characters and situations that populate his films are always enthralling to watch.
The direction by Barbet Schroeder ("Reversal of Fortune") is tense, well?paced and energetic. The acting is very good, especially by Caruso and Cage. Caruso is a very subtle and contained actor, much like Robert Mitchum, a veteran of many films noir. Also like Mitchum, Caruso seems like a powder keg about to go off. He projects seething fire and intensity without overplaying his hand.
Cage is mostly known for his dimwitted nice guy, hero roles, but he shows here that he has some real chops, creating a maniacal thug with a hair?trigger temper. With his pumped?up body and goatee, he has a hard look that goes great with his intense persona. It would have been very easy to go over?the?top with this part, but Cage never does. This is a very good performance.
The ending is the weakest part of the movie. It seems that the filmmakers ran out of gas and had to settle for less than the picture deserves. This is not a great crime film like "Goodfellas" or "Pulp Fiction," but it still makes for an enjoyable viewing.