Director – Gary Fleder, Screenplay – David Klass, Based on the Novel by James Patterson, Producers – David Brown & Joe Wizan, Photography – Aaron Schneider, Music – Mark Isham, Music Supervisor – Peter Afterman, Special Effects Supervisor – John Peyser, Prosthetic Makeup Effects – Steve Johnson’s XFX Inc (Supervisor – Sean Taylor), Production Design – Nelson Coates. Production Company – Paramount/Rysher Entertainment.
Morgan Freeman (Dr Alex Cross), Ashley Judd (Dr Kate McTiernan), Cary Elwes (Nick Ruskin), Jay O. Sanders (Kyle Craig), Tony Goldwyn (Dr William Rudolph), Bill Nunn (John Sampson), William Converse-Roberts (Dr Wick Sacks), Jeremy Piven (Henry Castillo), Alex McArthur (Davey Sykes), Richard T. Jones (Seth Samuel), Brian Cox (Chief Hatfield)
Dr Alex Cross, a forensic psychologist and detective with the Washington police department, joins the hunt in Durham, North Carolina, for a serial killer nicknamed Casanova after his niece becomes the latest victim. He determines that Casanova is collecting women who are each exceptional in their field. The latest abductee, medical intern Kate McTiernan, manages to make an escape from Casanova’s hideout. Clues that she has to Casanova’s identity become vital and so she and Alex team up to track Casanova down.
Kiss the Girls belongs to a new breed of psycho-thriller that emerged in the 1990s – what one might call the forensic psychology thriller. This was popularised by the enormous success of the overrated The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and has followed on through films like When the Bough Breaks (1994), Copycat (1995), the extraordinary Se7en (1995) and tv’s Cracker (1993-5), Profiler (1996-9), Millennium (1996-9) and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-15). It is a genre where maniacs in hockey masks wielding machetes and the old plot devices of split personalities, gender confusion and, at most, flashbacks to dubious Freudian childhood traumas, have become outmoded. Here the emphasis has been moved from the whodunnit to, if you like, the whydunnit where it is no longer as important working out who the killer is as it is in determining the pattern of psychological behaviour behind the murder.
The film is adapted from Kiss the Girls (1995), the second in a series of at current count twenty-three novels by thriller writer James Patterson featuring the African-American criminal profiler Alex Cross. It is an effective if not a standout entry in this burgeoning mini-genre. The film is well directed by Gary Fleder who made the sf film The Companion (1994) and broke through with Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1996) and commercial successes like this, Don’t Say a Word (2001) and Runaway Jury (2003), before returning to genre material with the Philip K. Dick adaptation Impostor (2002) and A Midsummer’s Nightmare (2017), plus producing the tv series Beauty and the Beast (2012-6).
Some of the shocks come with soft subtlety and absorbing suspense – the scenes in the cell with the masked killer and Ashley Judd’s discovery of the other girls are effectively eerie, while the opening credits sequences are striking. The film also contains two fine lead performances from Morgan Freeman, one of the finest African-American actors in the world, and from Ashley Judd, who crafts a strong and sympathetic character in a genre that would usually cast her character as a victim. (This was the part that brought Ashley Judd to attention as an actress and she has since gone on to become an A-list star).
The plot has some nicely written pieces – the opening suicide attempt scene has some captivatingly good dialogue. However, about the time that the film introduces a second killer, the plot and its running about becomes ungainly, especially in the implausible insistence on having to throw Ashley Judd into every scene. You cannot help picking holes in it too – unlike the lead character, as far as one is aware, no police force in the US with the exception of the FBI employs forensic psychologists as frontline police detectives.
The sequel, also featuring Morgan Freeman, was Along Came a Spider (2001). The series was later rebooted with Alex Cross (2012) starring Tyler Perry in the title role. The only other genre works that James Patterson has been associated with is as creator/producer of the animals attack tv series Zoo (2015-7) and Maximum Ride (2016) adapted from his Young Adult work about genetically-engineered children.
(Nominee for Best Actor (Morgan Freeman) and Best Actress (Ashley Judd) at this site’s Best of 1997 Awards).