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Wednesday, June 5, 2002

A girl, a gun, and, um, whatever

Kill Me Later

Rating: * * *
Director: Dana Lustig
Running time: 89 minutes
Language: English
Now showing

Back when he had a sense of humor, Jean-Luc Godard once famously remarked that "all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun." Typical for Godard, this comment was as facetious as it was true, something Godard himself proved with "A bout de souffle (Breathless)."

News photo
Chris Beesley and Selma Blair in Lustig's "Kill Me Later"

Well, times change, and today's young cinemagoers may mistake Godard for the captain of a "Star Trek" spaceship, but his axiom holds true. Just check out "Kill Me Later," the latest installment in the couple-on-the-run genre, by director/producer Dana Lustig. "Kill Me Later" is an indie pic, but rather than anything arty, you should be thinking Roger Corman.

Lustig has worked under Corman, the king of the B-movies, and "Kill Me Later" plays very much like a Corman concept, a faster, cheaper rip of higher-profile films, in this case, "Run Lola Run" and "A Life Less Ordinary." Like the former, Lustig sets a lot of flashy chase sequences cut rhythmically to a pumping soundtrack; like the latter, the story involves a bumbling kidnapper who ends up getting involved with his hostage, who has boyfriend and daddy problems of her own. So while there's little new here, "Kill Me Later" does bear the charms of the B-movie (most of which are straight-to-video, these days). It knows its niche, and it homes right in for the kill.

In this case, that's disaffected teens and twentysomethings. The filmmakers take a couple of good-looking stars, have them play totally messed-up kids whose problems are caused by their parents or the cops, shoot in a hyperedited MTV style to some hip indie rock, throw in plenty of attitude, and presto! All demographic buttons successfully pushed.

The situation here looks and feels totally generic: Depressed chick Shawn (you know she's depressed because she dresses entirely in black and smokes too much) tires of life and love and decides to end it all. Just as she's about to jump from the roof of the bank where she works, along comes a bungling bank robber named Charlie who takes her hostage. He threatens to shoot her. "What are you waiting for?" she replies in deader than deadpan. This is the stuff of classic screwball comedy, but unfortunately the writing's not sharp enough to attain that essential zing, like, say, what Clooney and Lopez had in "Out of Sight."

Selma Blair ("Cruel Intentions") does turn in one of the most sullen and laconic performances you're likely to see this year: It's as if some lost soul from an early Jim Jarmusch film took a wrong turn and ended up in a genre flick. Aside from her way with a cigarette, she's got a knack for delivering her lines in this "I don't give a toss about anything" drawl that will leave Goth fans everywhere swooning with delight. Chris Beesley as the nice-guy-down-on-his-luck bank robber has less to work with -- the script is more concerned with making him sympathetic than funny, though with lines like "women are bad, masturbation is good," some viewers may not find him to be either.

When "Kill Me Later" tries to get all emotional, with Shawn and Charlie opening up to each other about how much their lives suck, it's sorely lacking in conviction. The over-the-top situation just doesn't lend itself to serious heart-to-heart conversations. Then again, compared to "Spider-Man," this is genius. Blair does get one surprisingly moving monologue on how childhood dreams just fade away.

"I used to always live in the future," she purrs, as though choosing her words carefully. "Tomorrow, someday, later. And then I woke up and tomorrow's today and nothing's happened. You're getting older and only death is waiting at the other end. . . . Tomorrow is your worst enemy."

"Kill Me Later" does have the ability to surprise, to be cruising along in a familiar genre mode and then suddenly hit a stretch where it's something more. Lustig has a great sense of rhythm in her editing, cutting a scene sharply with the soundtrack hanging mid-note. She'll also dip into an imaginative use of color, saturating graffiti-covered walls or putting a blue filter over a motorcycle-chase scene until the images become nearly abstract. The effect is like watching someone use oil paints to fill in a coloring book.

Ultimately this is a genre flick, and it eventually delivers the goods, with Shawn and Charlie swan-diving off into the sunset, as it were. "Kill Me Later" does boast an excellent piss-take of a car-chase, with a getaway car driver who can't work a clutch, and -- refreshingly, for films of this type -- the onscreen violence is minimal. While this flick won't change your world, it won't have you wishing for the fast-forward button either -- and that, my friends, is the definition of a three-star movie.

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