Created by John Dahl and David W. Warfield
The sign says “Licensed Investigator, Confidentiality Guaranteed, 1248 Dahl Av., Reno, Nevada.”
What it doesn’t say is that JACK ANDREWS (played by an impossibly boyish-looking Val Kilmer) is not particularly good at the job. He’s a business degree major and a former insurance investigator on the skids following the death of his wife, in the 1989 neo-noir Kill Me Again. Now he’s a “half-assed Dick Tracy” with a “nice-guy complex,” wallowing in booze and self-pity and in serious hawk to a loanshark. He crawls out of the bottle just long enough to become involved with Fay Forrester (played by Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Kilmer’s real-life wife at the time) who hires him to help her fake her own death to escape the violent clutches of Vince Miller, an abusive boyfriend (Vengeance Unlimited‘s Michael Madsen).
Of course, she’s not telling Jack the whole story. She wants Vince to think she’s dead so she can start a new life with the money she robbed together with Vince. Unfortunately, Vince isn’t quite as dumb as Fay thought, and he soon tumbles on to the fact that Fay’s still alive. And he’s not happy about it…
It would be easy to simply dismiss this as Blood Simple Lite, were it not for the fact that it was writer/director John Dahl’s first film. Because no filmmaker, Tarrantino included, was more responsible for the early ’90s explosion of the neo noir than Dahl. His first three films, Kill Me Again, Red Rock West (1993) and particularly The Last Seduction (1994), a stone cold masterpiece, were tight, moody, character-driven B-flicks of desperation and desire, bad choices and worse luck — a dark and welcome tonic to the excesses of the bombastic action flicks that had dominated much of 1980’s crime cinema.
Not that Kill Me Again is as impressive or loud a debut as the Coens’ Blood Simple (1984) or Tarrantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), but it was clear, in these tightly written, quickly cranked out early films, with their relatively low-budgets and limited theatrical releases (thank god for cable and the burgeoning video market), that Dahl had a voice and a vision all his own; more content with continuing the pulpy film noir tradition than exploding and redefining it. And even when he got to work on projects with actual budgets, you can still feel that great black heart beating, in films like Unforgettable, Rounders and Joyride, and television shows like Californication, Jessica Jones, Justified and Terriers.
So there are some clever ideas here, and Dahl certainly keeps things moving (the film clocks in at a brisk ninety-four minutes), but there’s a sense that perhaps the production was rushed. But there are also somer stunning shots, and Madsen steals the show as the psychotic (what else?) Vince. Relative newcomers Mr. and (then) Mrs. Kilmer, however, are way out of their league, and the film lags after a while because of it. The script calls for blood and juice and passion, and instead we get Ken and Dress-Up Barbie.
Fortunately, Val Kilmer’s range has broadened and his thespian chops have considerably sharpened over the years, as evidenced by his subsequent portrayal of Gay Perry, a very different private eye, the flamboyant, hard-nosed and unapologetically gay P.I. in Shane Black’s slam-bang action comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). Whalley, meanwhile, has gone on to his a solid career in both film and television, both in the U.K. and the U.S.
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Written by John Dahl and David W. Warfield
Directed by John Dahl
Produced by David W. Warfield, Sigurjon Sighwatson and Steve Golin
Music by William Olvis
Starring Val Kilmer as JACK ANDREWS
Also starring Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Michael Madsen, Jonathan Gries, Michael Greene, Bibi Besch.
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- April 10, 2023
The Bottom Line: This clever, twisted neo-noir starred Val Kilmer as a fuck-up Vegas P.I. hired to help a woman fake her own death, in writer/director John Dahl’s feature film debut.