David Caruso

Kiss of Death (1995, Barbet Schroeder)

Kiss of Death takes place over four years, has eight to ten significant characters, and runs an hour and forty minutes. It skips ahead three years at the forty-five minute mark. And the last twenty minutes could have their own movie, as David Caruso returns to the city to face Nicolas Cage, who knows Caruso snitched on him only it’s never clear how he knows or to what extent.

And it’s important to look at why it’s unclear because Richard Price wrote this Kiss of Death–I’m a Price aficionado–but Price also wrote it like a novel. Then he cut a bunch out of a four-hour miniseries, threw in some more scenes of Cage’s absurd villain who isn’t actually a character so much as an unthinking monster moving his way through the film, and called it… well, probably not good, but called it a movie. Only it’s not a movie, especially not with Schroeder directing.

Kiss of Death is a remake of film noir and, in updating noir, Schroeder basically dumps anything related to the genre in terms of visual style. Luciano Tovoli’s photography is technically fantastic, but it has no personality. The film opens on this fantastic tracking shot of an auto yard, which figures into the fates of Caruso, Cage, and everyone else in the film only Schroeder’s got no visual style to tie it in. It’s like doing a Touch of Evil homage without understanding how it works for the viewer. It feels tacked on and generic, like almost everything else in the picture.

But, you know, Schroeder’s not terrible, he just doesn’t know what to do with this movie. He directs maybe four of the actors well. And never Caruso, who’s going through all these physicality bits–trying to do more with saying less–only Schroeder doesn’t seem to pick up on them. Caruso’s walking away in a medium long shot physically reacting to something and Schroeder doesn’t want to concentrate on Caruso. He doesn’t understand how to make Caruso the protagonist given the depth of supporting characterization. It’s kind of a mess.

Caruso’s okay. He’s best with Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kathryn Erbe. His scenes with Michael Rapaport and Stanley Tucci are too forced, either by script, direction, or Caruso himself. It’s an okay performance, not great, but with glimpses of great. Cage is in a similar boat. The actor, the script, and the director are all in disagreement about how to portray the character. When it’s Cage and Caruso together, Kiss of Death is at its best. There are lots of contrary things going on and the actors are still working so it creates a tone for the film, which otherwise has none.

Jackson’s got some really good moments, same for Erbe, though she’s utterly unappreciated. Actually, Helen Hunt’s unappreciated with some really good moments too. It’s kind of like Kiss of Death has too many good actors without enough material for them to do, so Price hints at better stuff off screen and then Schroeder’s not good enough at the on screen. Kiss of Death is its own worst enemy.

Michael Rapaport’s probably gives the film’s best performance as an annoying worm of a sociopath. Stanley Tucci’s fun as a righteous but greedy district attorney. Anthony Heald’s phenomenal as the mob lawyer. He gets two scenes. Just watching him and Tucci argue in front of a judge could carry a movie.

Lee Percy’s editing is a tad fast-paced. Trevor Jones’s music is a disaster.

Kiss of Death has too much potential, too little ambition, and some rather good performances (all things considered).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Barbet Schroeder; screenplay by Richard Price, based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky and the 1947 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Lee Percy; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Schroeder and Susan Hoffman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Jimmy), Samuel L. Jackson (Calvin), Nicolas Cage (Little Junior), Helen Hunt (Bev), Kathryn Erbe (Rosie), Stanley Tucci (Zioli), Michael Rapaport (Ronnie), Anthony Heald (Gold) and Ving Rhames (Omar).


Body Count (1998, Robert Patton-Spruill)

Body Count is unexceptionally bad. Theodore Witcher’s script is poorly plotted and stagy; Patton-Spruill’s direction is simply lame. He’s got no personality; it’s a heist gone wrong picture and it’s clear Witcher’s seen Reservoir Dogs, but Patton-Spruill’s apparently incapable of directing scenes with any tension whatsoever. Oddly Curt Sobel’s musical score reminds of seventies American New Wave so… maybe someone else made that decision? With an eighty-five minute run time and no theatrical release, Body Count obviously had its post-production issues.

Still, the acting’s good. Donnie Wahlberg’s probably the best, followed by David Caruso, then John Leguizamo. Body Count has the added problem of having no redeemable characters whatsoever–Ving Rhames is revealed as a religious man late in the picture as a way to endear him. Without a sympathetic lead and with Patton-Spruill’s vapid direction, Count‘s often tedious to watch. But then Witcher will come up with a great line or two (usually for Caruso) and it engages a little again.

Rhames is all right as the de facto lead. There’s not enough to his character (the religion thing is inane) and his arc is unbelievable, but he’s solid.

The film’s about a bunch of robbers on a lousy road trip, with Linda Fiorentino as a hitchhiker who tags along. She’s surprisingly mediocre. It’s not her fault, of course. Witcher’s script frequently reviles in its misogyny.

Good photography from Charles Mills. It could be a lot worse. Like if it were eighty-six minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Patton-Spruill; written by Theodore Witcher; director of photography, Charles Mills; edited by Joseph Gutowski and Richard Nord; music by Curt Sobel; production designer, Tim Eckel; produced by Mark Burg, George Jackson and Doug McHenry; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Ving Rhames (Pike), David Caruso (Hobbs), John Leguizamo (Chino), Linda Fiorentino (Natalie), Donnie Wahlberg (Booker) and Forest Whitaker (Crane).


Cold Around the Heart (1997, John Ridley)

From the first few minutes—after lengthy opening titles (if only one knew it’d be Mason Daring’s worst score ever)—it’s immediately clear something is terribly wrong with Cold Around the Heart. David Caruso and Kelly Lynch are awful in the opening scene, followed by a terrible cameo from Richard Kind. Except, during Kind’s atrocious appearance—where it becomes obvious Ridley’s script is going to have some terrible, post-Tarantino dialogue—Caruso is all of a sudden really good.

And Caruso stays good for most of the film. He’s never good with Lynch, who’s astoundingly bad throughout, but he never repeats the awfulness of the first scene.

Stacey Dash shows up as a hitchhiker—Caruso and Lynch are stick-up artists; Lynch betrays Caruso and he’s after her—and she and Caruso form an odd friendship. Dash has a lot of problems, most she has nothing to do with. Ridley cast her, around the age of thirty, as a fifteen year-old. She can’t surmount that one. But she gets good throughout and she and Caruso’s relationship is refreshingly honest.

The best performance in the film is from Chris Noth, who shows up in the second half. John Spencer shows up for a bit and is, unfortunately, lame. Much like Pruitt Taylor Vince, it appears to be Ridley’s fault. He can’t direct actors.

On the whole, Ridley composes shots well and Malik Hassan Sayeed is an excellent cinematographer.

It’s a bad film. It’s got good elements, but it’s quite bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Ridley; director of photography, Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Eric L. Beason; music by Mason Daring; production designer, Kara Lindstrom; produced by Craig Baumgarten, Dan Halsted and Adam Merims; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Ned), Kelly Lynch (Jude), Stacey Dash (Bec), Chris Noth (T), John Spencer (Uncle Mike), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Johnny Cokebottles), Richard Kind (Nabbish) and Mark Boone Junior (Angry Man).


First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Maybe if it weren’t for the Stephen J. Cannell television techniques (cars flying through the air or exploding on impact), the asinine, comedic banter between the deputies, some poor writing and Richard Crenna, First Blood might have been okay. Ted Kotcheff isn’t a good director though, so maybe not. Kotcheff shoots exteriors well (the stuff a second unit could have also done), but his composition for actors is simplistic and his director of the actors is terrible. Crenna’s role is just idiotically written, but both Stallone and Brian Dennehy careen from good to bad and not all their writing is bad; Kotcheff was just a terrible fit.

First Blood‘s actually kind of boring, mostly because it wastes all of its potential. The opening with Stallone visiting a friend off a beautiful lake really works, because it gets across the idea Rambo smiles when he sees children play. That characterization of Rambo doesn’t hold up through the entire movie and it’s a real problem. Anyway, after the opening, there’s the whole small town cops hassle Rambo stuff. Those scenes have some potential. Not a lot, because the transition from the sensitive Rambo who comforts an angry woman isn’t there. But David Caruso’s good as the sympathetic young deputy and Dennehy’s sheriff is still just a Western bad guy (the big mistake is later, when the script tries to give him depth).

But then Stallone hops on a motorcycle and starts doing wheelies and all the reality goes whoosh. Of course, after just showing him as a heartless animal, he’s warning people to get out of the way of the motorcycle on the sidewalk. Then there’s the long sequence in the forest, with awful cinematography. Then Richard Crenna shows up and is terrible and then a bunch of other stuff, then the ending Gremlins seems to have ripped off a little (it’s okay, since First Blood stole a lot from Raiders of the Lost Ark).

All the while, Jerry Goldsmith’s absurd score booms. Goldsmith appears to have never seen First Blood and is instead scoring an action movie with motorcycles. Oh, wait….

Stallone really does try during some of the scenes, but it doesn’t work. His big monologue is nowhere near as effective as when he tells some guy to get out of a speeding truck. Some of his wordless grunting scenes are bad, but most of his stuff is just boring–the movie probably spends fifteen minutes with him walking silently through a mine.

Nothing, of course, compares to that terrible end credit song, which is horrific. Sadly, the moment just before the song starts, Goldsmith’s score is for one second appropriate and First Blood actually seems all right. Then the song starts.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Brian Dennehy (Hope Sheriff Will Teasle), Bill McKinney (State Police Capt. Dave Kern), Jack Starrett (Deputy Sgt. Arthur Galt), Michael Talbott (Deputy Balford), Chris Mulkey (Deputy Ward), John McLiam (Orval the Dog Man), Alf Humphreys (Deputy Lester), David Caruso (Deputy Mitch), David L. Crowley (Deputy Shingleton) and Don MacKay (Preston).


Gold Coast (1997, Peter Weller)

I was going to start saying the amount of Elmore Leonard adaptations had dwindled, peaking after soon Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Jackie Brown. However, it appears Leonard adaptations are a mainstay, whether theatrically or–mostly–on television. Gold Coast actually might not even have come from that period (except David Caruso’s hero is in the Out of Sight mold), given director Peter Weller’s experience with Leonard (starring in an adaptation scripted by Leonard) on Cat Chaser. But whatever. More interestingly–and more depressingly–Gold Coast was supposed to kick off Weller’s career as a director, but then he dropped out of his first theatrical (Incognito). It’s too bad, because even though there a few broken moments in the film, Weller does a good job. The worst broken moment is a car shot, on the hood, Caruso driving, the moving landscape visible, through the driver-side window, behind him. The camera’s tilted and it’s clear what kind of shot it’s supposed to be and it doesn’t work because it’s not a Cars music video. It actually reminds me a lot of Sin City or something along those lines. Or a Cars music video. Otherwise, besides a handful of bad cuts, Weller does well. His handling is scary when it needs to be and delicate and tender and sad when it needs to be.

Caruso doesn’t hurt. Gold Coast features his best leading man work, even if the script occasionally fails him. Caruso’s the lead in Gold Coast in a movie star kind of way–much like Clooney in Out of Sight or Travolta in Get Shorty, which is what makes Gold Coast feel like a Leonard adaptation as opposed to a mean-spirited Carl Hiaasen–and the script does everything it can to sabotage the film as an excellent character study. Caruso and Weller seem to work very well together–the best directed scenes are either the ones with Caruso or with scene-chewing villain Jeff Kober–and the potential for the film really comes out, in the second half, when Caruso’s free of Marg Helgenberger’s clutches. Caruso’s fine in the scenes with Helgenberger, she’s exceptionally bad. She’s exceptionally bad throughout and the only thing keeping her from ruining the film is the other actors.

I can’t forget Kober, but I need to get the script out of the way. The film ought to be about a man who helps a woman who is in trouble, but Gold Coast gets so wrapped up in all the details about the woman’s trouble–wasting time going over it and over it–it loses the basic idea. It’s almost as much about Helgenberger’s maid as it is anyone else. And these characters aren’t quirkily amusing, they’re defined by the harm Kober’s villain threatens to do to them. It’s a mess. A solid Scott Frank rewrite and a real female lead would have turned Cold Coast into something fantastic.

Kober’s crazy villain is, strangely, just the kind of role Weller probably would have broken out with if he’d ever done one. Caruso’s got to be reserved, because if he tried to make any noise, Koger would just drown him out. Fantastic villain.

Rafael Báez and Wanda De Jesus are both very good as well. The scenes they’re in with Caruso are excellent, indicative of a much better film. (The less said about Richard Bradford’s embarrassing cameo the better).

So, in conclusion, get rid of Helgenberger and fix the script and Gold Coast might have been something. As it stands, it’s a fine show of Weller’s promise as a director and it’s a great Caruso performance.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Weller; screenplay by Harley Peyton, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Jacek Laskus; edited by Dean Goodhill; music by Peter Harris; production designer, Maria Rebman Caso; produced by Richard Maynard, Jana Sue Mernel and Weller; aired by Showtime.

Starring David Caruso (Maguire), Marg Helgenberger (Karen DiCilia), Jeff Kober (Roland Crowe), Barry Primus (Ed Grossi), Wanda De Jesus (Vivian), Richard Bradford (Frank DiCilia), Rafael Báez (Jesus) and Melissa Hickey (Martha).


Rainbow Drive (1990, Bobby Roth)

Peter Weller’s an L.A. cop with an in-ground swimming pool and a case his bosses don’t want him to solve. So what’s he going to do? He’s going to solve it, boring the viewer to sleep while he does too. It’s not Weller’s fault. It’s the script. And the direction, but I’ll get to it in a minute. The script has this wonderful, unspeakably awful way of every time a character talks to another character, they refer to that other character by name. It’s like the screenwriters went to a seminar and heard the use of names is good for emphasis. Revealing emphasis or some such nonsense.

I had intended starting this post with a comparison between made-for-cable cop mysteries with b-movies from the 1950s, but Rainbow Drive is so bad–well, I guess, it’s bad like most of those 1950s b-movies. Besides the terrible script, and the inability to make a case of Chinatown-level confusion worth unraveling, it’s director obviously thinks in terms of television sets. Bobby Roth directed one episode of “Miami Vice” and, with his Tangerine Dream score going in Drive, thinks he’s Michael Mann. To say he’s not is such an understatement, it’s not worth exploring. TV movies do not have to look like TV shows. Orson Welles composed quite a bit in 4:3 and it doesn’t look like a TV show. Roth’s also a terrible director of actors. Rainbow Drive has familiar faces saying bad lines and generally embarrassing themselves, particularly Bruce Weitz.

I could try to defend Weller’s performance in this one, but it’s pretty damn bad. David Caruso’s real good though, back when he acted. He takes a noteless role and makes it interesting to watch.

On the plus side, however, some of the second unit shots on L.A. are cool looking.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bobby Roth; screenplay by Bill Phillips and Bennett Cohen, from a novel by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Henk Van Eeghen; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Claudio Guzman; produced by John Veitch; aired by Showtime.

Starring Peter Weller (Mike Gallagher), Sela Ward (Laura Demming), David Caruso (Larry Hammond), Tony Jay (Max Hollister), James Laurenson (Hans Roehrig), Jon Gries (Azzolini), Henry G. Sanders (Marvin Burgess), Chris Mulkey (Ira Rosenberg), David Neidorf (Bernie Maxwell), Bruce Weitz (Dan Crawford), Chelcie Ross (Tom Cutler), Rutanya Alda (Marge Crawford), Megan Mullally (Ava Zieff) and Kathryn Harrold (Christine).


Jade (1995, William Friedkin), the director’s cut

Jade not only ended David Caruso’s leading man career, it also ended Chazz Palminteri’s mid-1990s upswing, and probably slowed down Linda Fiorentino’s post-Last Seduction career as it started (she never had a lead in a major studio production). Amusingly, when Paramount started making the film, back in 1995, they had no idea who to cast in the female lead, so they asked film critics, who, of course, were raving about Fiorentino at the time. All three of these actors–at times–do a lot of good work in Jade, but the film’s so poorly written, so poorly produced (by Robert Evans of all people, in his comeback attempt), it’s all for nothing.

The story could have been an update on Manhattan Melodrama, the love triangle with civic complications, but instead, Joe Eszterhas recycles Basic Instinct. There’s a lot of recycling going on in Jade–Friedkin fills it with chase scenes (I’d totally forgotten he’d done The French Connection, I thought it was Frankenheimer… I guess a good script does help, doesn’t it?) and James Horner recycles a lot of his older material in the score, including the end title from Aliens, which is cute since Michael Biehn is in Jade. Except Biehn turns in one of his incredibly bad performances. It’s hard to believe he was ever good (in Aliens) and I wonder if the continued exposure to Friedkin (starting in 1988) ruined his acting. Seeing Jade, it’s certainly a possibility.

I watched Jade because I remembered it a few weeks ago. Friedkin did a director’s cut for cable and VHS, which Paramount did not release on DVD, and I got it off eBay for a couple bucks. I remember when it came out–I probably saw it at a Suncoast, the release was so long ago I still went to Suncoast–the director’s cut was an improvement over the original version, which I had seen in the theater. Well, if the director’s cut truly is an improvement, the original must be really terrible. Besides Biehn, Angie Everhart turns up for a few minutes, starting her assault on the sanctity of acting, but Donna Murphy is really good. She and Caruso should do a family drama or something.

The last tidbit of Jade trivia I have is about the home video presentation. I wasn’t going to get it, but I remember talking to a Ken Crane’s LaserDisc operator on the phone about the laserdisc. Friedkin had Paramount release it pan and scan only–just like the VHS, just like the DVD. Now, Jade was not matted for theatrical release, so, apparently, Friedkin is a big supporter of pan and scan for the film (but none of the others in his oeuvre, even his eating tree classic, The Guardian, is available widescreen). Eszterhas amusingly blames the whole mess on Friedkin, who he says only got the directing gig because his wife was running Paramount at the time. It’s a load of crap–Eszterhas has never written a good line in his life–but it’s rare to see such hacks acting against each other to create a piece of garbage… all of it ruining some of Fiorentino’s best work… potentially best work… she was really good–unspeakably wonderful–for like a minute… in fifteen second sequences….

I can’t believe I just watched Jade. More, I can’t believe I just watched the whole thing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Augie Hess; music by James Horner; production designer, Alex Tavoularis; produced by Robert Evans, Craig Baumgarten and Gary Adelson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Caruso (David Corelli), Linda Fiorentino (Trina Gavin), Chazz Palminteri (Matt Gavin), Richard Crenna (Gov. Lew Edwards), Michael Biehn (Bob Hargrove), Donna Murphy (Karen Heller), Ken King (Petey Vesko), Holt McCallany (Bill Barrett), David Hunt (Pat Callendar), Angie Everhart (Patrice Jacinto), Kevin Tighe (Dist. Atty. Arnold Clifford) and Robin Thomas (Mr. Green).


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