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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

KILL ME, DEADLY -- Movie Review by Porfle

(NOTE: This review is based on a preliminary screener.  No DVD info is available at this time.)

In an era when many people won't even watch black-and-white movies, it takes real conviction to actually make one.  Not only does it have to look extra good, and extra convincing--like ED WOOD or YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN--but everything else about it has to be practically downright magical in order to justify its colorless existence. 

That's why it's so impressive to see first-time director Darrett Sanders and one-time screenwriter Bill Robens (SCREAM OF THE BIKINI) score such a satisfying bullseye with their delightful film noir spoof KILL ME, DEADLY (2015).  Not only does it look as good as some of the finest examples of its target genre, but the comedy and performances are pitch perfect. 

Leslie-Anne Down (THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY) makes a welcome appearance as flighty, eccentric millionairess Lady Clairmont, who hires private gumshoe Charlie Nickels (Dean Lemont) when she suspects that someone's trying to kill her.  The fact that she's been receiving notes that say "I'm going to kill you" reinforces her suspicions.

Lady Clairmont is the owner of the world's most precious jewel, the Bengal Diamond, which carries a deadly curse--each of its previous owners died mysteriously at the age of 95.  When she is murdered and the diamond stolen, Nickels is thrust into a morass of intrigue, treachery, and danger that will involve not only famed gangster Bugsy Siegel (Joe Mantegna) and various heirs to her fortune, but also the beautiful and mysterious Mona Livingston (Kirsten Vangsness, "Criminal Minds"), the standard femme fatale whom the hardboiled dick can't help falling for even though she may be behind the whole sordid affair.

The story hits all the familiar tropes and cliche's of the genre with wit and finesse to spare.  While twisting his way through it Nickels must deal with the usual plainclothes cops and hired thugs who constantly get in his way, all the while giving us a running commentary that shoots holes in every weary, metaphor-packed voiceover you've ever heard. 

At one point he informs us, "I was too busy dodging bullets to make out the meat with the gats, so I cheesed it and headed over to Tony's Liquor Lounge on Cahuenga for a heart-to-heart with boy millioniare Clive Clairmont."  Later he remarks about Mona, "She had a hold on me like a wolverine on a moose."  And those are some of the milder examples.

Lemont is all stern-jawed and Bogartesque as Nickels, never letting on that he knows how ridiculous it all is.  (His acting style reminds me of SCTV's Dave Thomas.)  Naturally he gets beaten up and knocked out a lot during the course of the story while dishing out plenty of punishment himself, with even this familiar cliche' getting amusingly turned upon itself.

The story touches base with films from THE MALTESE FALCON (the black bird itself makes a guest appearance early on) to the film's namesake KISS ME, DEADLY, with even a nod to Scorsese's classic TAXI DRIVER at the end, and manages at all times to be sharply witty while only occasionally veering into farce. 

Some of the characters lend authenticity by playing it straight while others perform hilarious caricatures of their character types.  Particularly good are Nicholas S. Williams as Lady Clairmont's delightfully sniveling son Clive--who exits the film way too soon--and Vangsness, whose "Mona" reminds me of a female Joe Besser (I'm a Besser fan so this is a compliment) and is so maddeningly two-faced that she can't get through a single sentence without brimming with comic insincerity.

In addition to Mantegna, who makes an interesting Bugsy Siegel, is another of Vangsness' "Criminal Minds" castmates Shemar Moore in the small role of Bill, the piano player in Tony's Liquor Lounge, and Raleigh Holmes as Lady Clairmont's seductive daughter Veronica.  Paul F. Tompkins of "Mr. Show" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" turns up as a former employee of Lady Clairmont suspected in her murder.  Especially good is Lynn Odell as Nickels' outlandishly efficient secretary Ida, who actually solves 99% of the case herself in manic style while he's bumbling his way through it.

In addition to its overall above-average production values, KILL ME, DEADLY boasts such gorgeous black-and-white photography and period atmosphere that I'm almost sorry it's a spoof of film noirs instead of a serious private eye thriller. But as a comedy, it's a deadpan delight that starts out intriguingly offbeat and just gets better, and funnier, as it goes along. 

Tech Specs

Runtime: 100 minutes
Format: 1:85 Flat
Sound: Dolby SR
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy


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