The Record (Bergen County, NJ); 4/26/1991
by Diana Maychick, Record Film Critic
A KISS BEFORE DYING: Written and directed by James Dearden (based on the novel by Ira Levin). Produced by Robert Lawrence. Photographed by Mike Southon. Music by Howard Shore. Edited by Michael Bradsell. With Matt Dillon, Sean Young, Max Von Sydow, Diane Ladd, James Russo, Martha Gehman, Joie Lee, Ben Browder, Sam Coppola, Elzbieta Czyzewska. Released by Universal. 103 minutes. Rated R (nudity and language). Opens today.
The story of a ruthless psychopath who marries the twin sister of a woman he has murdered to advance his career, "A Kiss Before Dying" plays like a B-movie version of a Hitchcock thriller.
That means you'll giggle as much as you'll squirm, which is not a bad way to while away an evening if cheap thrills hold any allure.
Jonathan Corliss (Matt Dillon), a smiling student from the University of Pennsylvania, appears on the verge of marrying classmate Dorothy Carlsson (Sean Young) when he pushes her off a ledge instead.
This opening scene, in which director James Dearden films Dorothy's body landing bloodily in the lobby of a municipal building, is extremely engrossing, primarily because the reason for the murder is left unexplained.
Dearden, the screenwriter of "Fatal Attraction," forces the audience to endure a lot of cliched scenes of romance between Dillon and Young (for the rest of the movie, she portrays Dorothy's twin, Ellen) before the mystery is unraveled. The solution turns out to be a letdown, and an extremely silly one at that.
But because of their erratic talents, the stars turn out to be well-suited to the material -- and to each other.
Dillon conveys boyish charm and menacing determination at the right moments, and Young is his perfect foil as the bad girl -- the blond, risk-taking Dorothy -- as well as the good one, the steady, idealistic brunette, Ellen.
After Dorothy's death, Ellen rarely sleeps. She spends equal time counseling runaways (her job) and trying to prove her sister's death was not a suicide. Jonathan is stressed out, too: He's determined not only to meet and woo Ellen but to bump off anyone who might remember him from his days with Dorothy.
They inevitably marry, and Ellen's father (Max Von Sydow), who owns a multimillion-dollar copper refining plant, invites the seemingly responsible Jonathan to join the family business. This does not please Ellen, who prefers to have her husband by her side, handing out sandwiches to the homeless.
Jonathan's past comes to light almost by accident, but by this time you may be rooting for him to continue with the ruse; Ellen's good deeds are becoming mightily tiresome.
As the patriarch, Von Sydow is the best actor in the movie, but his clenched-jaw style seems more suited to "Ordinary People" than this forced thriller. On the other hand, Diane Ladd, who portrays Jonathan's mother with whiny abandon, lives up to the movie's -- and our -- expectations. She may soon outdistance her daughter, Laura Dern, as a cult favorite.
"A Kiss Before Dying" has its small charms, mostly several really big scares, but it draws too many unintentional laughs -- especially when a final whistle blows Jonathan's cover.
Copyright © 1991 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.