Sex, Lies and a Video Tape – Rediscovering ‘Kiss or Kill’ (Australia 1997 – 96 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - March 26, 2014
Sex, Lies and a Video Tape – Rediscovering ‘Kiss or Kill’ (Australia 1997 –  96 mins)

Compelling and sometimes controversial, the excellent Australian noir ‘Kiss or Kill’ is filled with enough quirky characters and gripping situations to fill a dozen movies. This 4 way, cross-country chase between scammers, cops and a sexual predator, is actually much more than your ‘couple-on-the-run’ road movie. It is a psychological character study of fraught relationships, damaged individuals and the people they trust. It’s also very funny in places.

Drifting through Adelaide, young scammers Nikki and Al are targeting married businessmen in sure fire stings. Flirtatious Nikki is willingly picked up by these men and taken to a hotel room, where she drugs and then robs them. Unfortunately their latest victim dies, leaving behind an incriminating sex tape of local celebrity; Zipper Doyle. Needing a quick getaway, they take to the road, but find that wherever they end up, bodies start turning up in their wake. Paranoia kicks in as both sleepwalker Nikki and bad tempered Al begin to suspect each other of the murders. With the cops, an aboriginal tracker and Zipper closing in, and with their trust in each other wavering, it won’t be too long before tensions spill over and the killer revealed.

Talented British actress Frances O’Connor is quite brilliant as the unpredictable Nikki. Better known for her roles in costume pics, such as ‘Mansfield Park’ (’99), and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (’02), Frances is exceptional in a part that is both mentally and physically exhausting. Melbourne born Matt Day is also excellent as Nikki’s hot-tempered boyfriend, and has been kept busy ever since. O’Connor and Day had starred together the previous year, in the excellent Aussie comedy ‘Love and Other Catastrophes’ (’96), and have terrific chemistry together. Familiar Australian actor Chris Haywood and Andrew S. Gilbert play the detective duo perfectly, bouncing off each other with their bone dry wit. Barry Langrishe is also very good in the role of Zipper Doyle, the famed athlete with a disturbing secret. Aussie regulars Max Cullen and Barry Otto also appear in wonderfully eccentric roles.

Writer-director Bill Bennett expertly mixes some very funny moments with biting tension. A truly shocking opening scene helps explain how Nikki was traumatised as a child, when she witnessed her mother’s murder, after she is set alight in front of her. This distressing moment distils a distrust in men that will stay with Nikki throughout her adult life. There are some very funny moments in between the murder and mayhem, particularly the fantastic café scene between the two detectives, where they realise that after many years of partnership, that perhaps they really don’t know each other at all. This scene is wonderfully written and acted, and is very funny, with a payoff that is just perfect. In a movie filled with memorable moments, this is my favourite scene and apparently the only one in the movie which was shot word for word.

Filmed in a unique manner with frequent Jump cuts, ‘Kiss or Kill’ may have a familiar central plot, but with its own style and faultless performances across the board, it’s a guaranteed thrill-ride full of enough twists to keep the viewer guessing right to the unnerving end. Featuring a star-making performance from Frances O’Connor, you are never quite sure whether she really is about to kiss or kill!

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