Judas Kiss

(Sebastian Gutierrez , USA, 1998)


The classy erotic thriller, replete with references to the grand old days of film noir, has become a staple of mainstream and independent cinema. It is not hard to see the attraction: jazzy stories with colourful characters, savage one-liners and all manner of twists and turns, tarted up with a lurid design sense and plenty of bare flesh.

Judas Kiss works to this rule. It evokes fond memories of Bound (1996), Blood Simple (1984), The Usual Suspects (1995), The Big Easy (1987) and many other neo-noir specials. And it is fun to watch: brash and absorbing, with a driving rhythm, a full bag of cinematic tricks and plenty of in-jokes for connoisseurs of this genre. Just don't expect to remember it five minutes after the curtain has closed.

It is a heist movie that shades into a kidnapping story, and then becomes a round-robin of reversals and betrayals. It begins exactly like Kiss or Kill (1997), with Coco (Carla Gugino) and Junior (Simon Baker-Denny) fleecing weak men in bars. But something bigger and better than this tawdry work is in the offing: a plan to kidnap a computer entrepreneur, Dyson (Greg Wise).

The crew, also comprising smooth-talking, contemplative Lizard (Gil Bellows) and hot-tempered, low-class Ruben (Til Schweiger), does the job well – until Coco has to kill a seeming passerby who turns out to be the wife of Senator Hornbeck (Hal Holbrook). Soon all manner of shady characters – apart from the world-weary cops Hawkins (Emma Thompson) and Friedman (Alan Rickman) – are in pursuit of the gang and their captive.

Judas Kiss is a very self-conscious movie. Friedman and Hawkins do not merely brandish Jim Thompson books with chic covers; they also quote the author's works and aphorisms. A ludicrous sci-fi porno movie flits in and out of proceedings for no better reason than to raise a brittle laugh.

The acting extends this air of being cool and in the know – often rather annoyingly so. Hawkins has almost no bearing upon the plot, but the part gives Thompson the excuse to show off her mastery of accents and play a scene while wearing a beanie and cruising on roller skates.

Gugino's performance appears to have been highly influenced by her work in Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes (1998). There, she was presented as a cartoonish sex doll; here, she plays many scenes in skimpy underwear, delivering breathless speeches about all the things that make her "hot" and "wet" (including, believe it or not, steak).

Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez tricks out his plot with flashbacks, ostentatious camera angles and ominous scenes in which Coco starts thinking hard – so hard that the whole world is reduced to the low sound of just a teaspoon's rattle or the whirr of fan blades.

© Adrian Martin June 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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