Kiss the Girls (1997)

A textbook example of how to ruin a good story.  Gary Fleder 
(THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD) directs this torturously 
sanitized adaptation of James Patterson's bestseller about a D.C. 
forensic psychologist (Morgan Freeman) who comes to Durham, North 
Carolina, after his Duke-attending niece goes up missing.  Turns 
out that the D.P.D. (and the F.B.I.) have been sitting on a series 
of kidnappings and murders, of college girls from all around the 
area.  What Freeman's character surmises is that "Casanova," as he 
calls himself, is actually a collector who's keeping these young 
women alive for various sundry, sordid purposes.  (And of which the 
graphic details are nearly entirely omitted.  With the exception of 
a wee bit of gore, the creepiest images in this movie are safe 
enough to be shown on the Disney channel.)  Before long, Freeman's 
character has a partner-in-crime-control, a medical student (Ashley 
Judd) who escapes from the kidnapper-killer's underground lair with 
an assist from some convenient kick-boxing skills.  An older black 
man as an action hero?  A slasher victim who fights back??  And the  
barest whiff of a romance between the two???  Admittedly, this is 
non-standard fare for Hollywood, which makes the movie's many, many 
failures all the more regrettable.  

On the up side, Morgan Freeman is his expectedly excellent self.  
He brings the necessary weight to the story and without enduring 
the humiliation of having to spout one-liners, such as, say,  
"you've been pasteurized."  Ms. Judd, who should be but isn't the 
other anchor at the story's core, fares far less better.  She's a 
good actress saddled with an only-okay characterization.  (In the 
novel, as I recall, she suffers much more abuse before her escape, 
which adds an edge to the character that's missing from the filmed 
version.)  And so, with two talented actors at front and center, 
KISS THE GIRLS never becomes unwatchable-- no matter how hard 
Fleder tries to kill the non-mood, be it through bozo casting (what 
the Hell is Cary Elwes doing here?), atrocious southern accents on 
the part of the supporting cast (what dialect is Brian Cox, one-
time Hannibal Lecter in MANHUNTER, speaking in the minuscule role 
of Durham's police chief?), giggle-inducing shots of the disguised 
villain, way too many moonlight foot chases, and an underground 
dungeon that, truth be told, looks more like an amusement park ride 
than a Civil War-era leftover.  Sigh.  I suppose that the biggest 
disappointment is the lack of local color.  Short of a shot or two 
of Duke, Durham, and the RTP, you'd never know that KISS THE GIRLS 
was filmed around here.  (Rated "R"/117 min.)

Grade: C-

Copyright 1997 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: October 5, 1997

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