' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Kill Me Again (1989)

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday's Old Fashioned: Kill Me Again (1989)

Time is fickle. When I first saw John Dahl’s “Kill Me Again” (1989) sometime in the mid-90s, probably rented from Hollywood Video, my knowledge of noir would have been scant, if not entirely non-existent. So, maybe it’s no wonder that I remembered loving it, having nothing, really, to compare it to, or having no real sense of how it drew from myriad predecessors. Seeing it again years later, after feasting on American noir for decades, it’s difficult to not see it for what it really is, or mostly is, anyway. Like Fay Forrester (Joanne Whalley) standing in the entryway of a semi-hapless private eye’s office as the camera ogles her by tilting up, “Kill Me Again” is striking a pose. 

Conveyed as an escalating series of double crosses, Fay and her psycho boyfriend Vince (Michael Madsen) rob a pair of mobsters of a briefcase full of money before Fay robs Vince and then hires cash-strapped Reno private detective Jack Andrews (Val Kilmer) to help stage her death. But after ‘dying,’ she absconds with half the money she owes Jack, making it two lovelorn dudes trying to track down Fay to get what they are owed. (Don’t rewrite in a review, yada yada, so it’s in a parenthetical, but I couldn’t help imagining an alternate movie in the vein of “There’s Something About Mary” in which Jack and Vince team up to go after Fay, and then maybe end up in the company of, say, Jonathan Silverman as, say, Paul, a third guy who gets duped by Fay and joins the team.) And this is to say nothing of the hoodlums seeking to collect $10,000 from Jack in gambling debts. 

The plot might be convoluted, and the characters might get the short end of the stick, but Dahl at least connects the myriad dots with some stylish kick, like an early cut from Jack looking at a broken photo of his wife to Fay peering through the broken window of his office. And in these weird days when a Tubi stream becomes more picturesque than digital film on a big screen, the way the late afternoon light reflected off the red rocks falls on Kilmer and Whalley’s face on Lake Mead makes it look like an old noir poster come to life. But then, this is the hottest moment, really, in a movie that never quite takes full advantage of just how hot Kilmer and then-Whalley-Kilmer were together. There’s a lot of talk these days about how movies used to be hotter, and broadly speaking, that’s true, but boy, even back then, they never fully took advantage of this couple comet blazing across the sky.

The character of Jack Andrews melds two noir archetypes into one, the private investigator and the sap, and Kilmer really leans into the latter, making him overly polite, too nice, just an absolute sucker. Its strangely effective, playing against the public persona he would have possessed in 1989 even as he occasionally evokes nothing less than his Nick Rivers character of the spoof “Top Secret!,” like when the moment when Jack phones for his bank balance (!) and pitifully realizes it’s $7.89, not $789, by forlornly adding the decimal point on a piece of paper. When Jack keeps getting roped in by Fay, you can’t help but want to pat this loser on the head, even as Kilmer’s convincing sheepishness cuts against the romance, not to mention his character’s ostensible gambling addiction and anguish over his wife’s death.

Whalley, meanwhile, winds up just as hampered by the twists and turns of the screenplay as the movie itself. There are so many double crosses, that we don’t so much come to wonder if she is who she says she is as we gradually discover we have no real idea of she is in the first place; she’s not a person, just a function of the plot. All those twists and turns, which come fast and furious as “Kill Me Again” wraps up, have the odd effect of working so hard to make it seem like you never know what’s coming that instead everything winds up being paradoxically obvious while the craft in engineering a climactic title drop – “Kill me, kill me again” – is admirable even if it can’t help but fall flat. 

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