Kiss of Death (1995)

Hollywood should assign all their remakes of hard-boiled classics to Richard Price. He did right by Night and the City, and his script for this remake of the 1947 noir classic sparkles with malicious street wit. Now that Woody Allen has abdicated the throne, Price is the soul-of-New-York screenwriter. David Caruso, in his first (and only) bid as a movie star, is ex-con Jimmy Kilmartin, coerced by the feds to entrap psychotic car thief Little Junior (a magnetic Nicolas Cage). Director Barbet Schroeder creates a malignant atmosphere of unease, the constant promise of violence (though the most disgusting murder — the killers prepare for it by donning raincoats — occurs off-camera).

Jimmy seems in way over his head, and Caruso (unfairly sneered at for ditching NYPD Blue for this movie) convinces us of Jimmy’s intelligence but also his vulnerability — it’s a solid, subtle performance that mostly got overlooked in favor of the more vivid turns by Cage (“We should get together sometime — talk about life an’ shit”), Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Ving Rhames, and Helen Hunt (who, as Jimmy’s first wife, makes her few screen moments count). But the acclaim belongs to Price, who writes ’em like Hollywood used to make ’em, only with a lot more profanity and splatter.

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