Kill Me Again

Love that title. And the rest of the movie isn’t bad either: Kill Me Again plunks itself down squarely in the delicious film noir tradition of the 1940s, in which men and women played out their emotional problems using guns, cigarettes, and blackmail.

In the dusty setting of modern Reno, private eye Jack Andrews (Val Kilmer) thinks he’s got problems; he’s in hock, his business is collapsing, and loan sharks are beginning to break his fingers. But this is nothing. One day, trouble walks into his office: Fay Forrester (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer), a big-eyed brunette dressed all in white, who sashays out of the shadows toting a briefcase full of crisp one-hundred dollar bills. Trouble.

Jack really ought to know better, especially when Fay bats those big brown saucers at him and says, “I want you to kill me.” In her elaborate scheme, she’ll fake her own death and make off with the money (which she stole from some unforgiving mob folks, and from her nasty ex-boyfriend); all Jack has to do to earn his fee is help with the fakery. Simple.

Except that murder, even when faked, is never simple. And that’s what the rest of Kill Me Again spells out, in entertaining terms. Director John Dahl, who wrote the script with producer David Warfield, borrows just enough from those classic ’40s films without getting slavish about it. If you’ve seen those movies, you may be ahead of the twists and turns here, but that doesn’t make them any less fun.

Nice feeling for the desolation of Nevada spaces, plus some weird black comedy in the scene in which Jack and Fay arrange her “death.” The lead actors – married in real life – are ever so slightly offbeat. Whalley-Kilmer, the English actress last seen in Scandal, knows how to turn on the seductive charm with dizzying amorality.

Val Kilmer continues his progress as a light leading man of the Jeff Bridges variety. (He did the enjoyable Toshiro Mifune imitation as the hero of Willow.) Here, he doesn’t appear to be doing much, but he expertly conveys the nice-guy denseness of this private eye. Next up: Kilmer plays Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s film about The Doors. Sounds like more trouble.

First published in The Herald, May 5, 1990

Kilmer turned out to be more than slightly offbeat, I guess, an image verified by 2021’s documentary portrait. This is a good movie. Michael Madsen plays the ex. Dahl has had a very busy career in TV, where for all I know (which is not very much) he has done a fine job. Wish he made more movies, though. Of course Red Rock West and The Last Seduction are prime neo-noir, but I also really liked his war picture, The Great Raid, about an Allied mission to liberate a brutal Japanese POW camp. Also, You Kill Me has interesting noir shadings, and oddball performances from Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni. Did I mention I wished this guy made more movies?

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