There’s a scene two-thirds of the way through the Australian film “Kiss or Kill” that represents what I most appreciate about this rough-hewn, little road film.
It’s nothing much. Just two guys, in this case homicide detectives, sitting around talking. What makes it special, though, is how they play off each other. And, in the end, how smoothly they connect just when it seems impossible for them to ever do exactly that.
Directed by veteran television director/producer Bill Bennett, “Kiss or Kill” is much better than its exploitation-rich title would suggest. While being the same kind of couple-on-the-lam film that Oliver Stone made with “Natural Born Killers,” Bennett’s movie is less about effect than it is a study of people and how they relate.
And often don’t relate.
It is also a whole universe less violent.
The film involves Nikki and Al, two kids with advanced street smarts that keep them - if ever so barely - a step ahead of the law. They make their living shaking down businessmen who become aroused by the comely Nikki’s physical charms.
But things go wrong when one of the guys accidentally dies from the drugs that Nikki has dumped into his drink. And after contemplating following through on what the dead guy obviously intended to do - that is, blackmail a prominent Australian sports star - they decide instead to hit the highway.
Of course, trouble follows them. Both in the shape of the two cops described above (Chris Haywood and Andrew S. Gilbert) and in the murderous footballer, a sleazy smoothie named (not inappropriately) Zipper Doyle (Barry Langrishe).
They discover trouble along the way, too, in truculent truck drivers, in neurotic restaurateurs and in a string of mysterious murders that, after a while, Nikki and Al begin to suspect the other of committing (he has a hot temper, she sleepwalks).
Of course, their own troubled childhoods ensures that they bring their own personal troubles to the mix.
In the end, Bennett is concerned not with plot so much as with character interaction. And this is just as well, because the murder mystery never amounts to much.
But as a study of how people make their own karma, about how they both profit from luck and construct the very scenario for such luck to occur, “Kiss or Kill” succeeds wonderfully. It’s a worthy way to spend 90-odd minutes.
And maybe it’s just the problems Bennett’s characters have with bonding, but the great Aussie Outback has never seemed so forebodingly empty.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Kiss or Kill” *** Location: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Bill Bennett, starring Frances O’Connor, Matt Day, Barry Langrishe, Chris Haywood, Andrew S. Gilbert. Running time: 1:36 Rating: R