The most memorable character in “Kiss of Death” is Little Junior, played by the freshly pumped-up Nicholas Cage.
Junior is a brutal mobster who owns a strip joint and deals in, among other things, stolen cars. He operates within the bounds of most movie killers (he’s extremely brutal and has little quirks, such as an asthma problem and being nauseated by the taste of metal in his mouth), but Cage gives him a vacant-eyed coldness that makes Little Junior truly chilling. That’s not the sadistic-sicko-killer chilling that most action films have; this is for real.
And there is always a feeling of danger around him; Junior is given to extreme mood swings that more often than not lead him to sudden violence.
Little Junior is a character that leaves the biggest impression walking out of “Kiss of Death,” but the film has more than its share of other interesting characters. There’s Calvin (Samuel L. Jackson, of “Pulp Fiction”), a detective who was shot in the face and now his right eye runs constantly. He’s an angry man because of this and places the blame for his injury on the film’s protagonist, Jimmy Kilmartin (David Caruso).
Jimmy has recently been released from prison and is now being used by the police to catch Little Junior. Michael Rapaport plays Jimmy’s cousin, a two-bit hood who runs an auto-parts yard that is a front for a “hot” car lot. And there’s Little Junior’s associate, Omar (Ving Rhames, of “Pulp Fiction”) a coke-sniffing, hot-headed fellow car thief.
The plot is fairly simple: Jimmy spends three years in jail for getting caught with some of Little Junior’s stolen cars and is forced by the cops to go undercover and work for Little Junior again.
Overall, “Kiss of Death” is not a plot-oriented film; it concerns itself mostly with Jimmy’s desperation. He just wants to leave his criminal past behind and be with his daughter. As the film goes on, Jimmy begins to become more and more desperate, and by the end of the film, he doesn’t care whether the good guys or the bad guys win. He just wants out.
“Kiss of Death” is tense and suspenseful. It steadily builds up the tension until the climax, which is not really a letdown, but it does end prematurely.
There needed to be another confrontation that tied up the loose ends or merely ended the film. Instead, we get a great confrontation that is broken up too early, and then an ending that isn’t sure if it’s an actual climax or resolution.
The only real problems are the ending and a dreadful mid-‘80s soft-rock musical score. What the film has going for it - a small army of great characters lead by Nicholas Cage - more than makes up for it.
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