She's cold. He's old.
Kiss Daddy Goodnight, a 1988 thriller, marks the first film appearance of Uma Thurman. Apparently this was even her first audition—she was cast immediately. If you think this sounds impressive, one look at the resulting film will positively amaze you—that Uma managed to find another role after this turkey (I think we can assume she left this one off her resume when auditioning for Dangerous Liaisons).
Facts of the Case
Have you ever gotten to know someone online or through a personal ad, and when you met them in person you realized that they had embellished just a wee bit in describing themselves? Remember the initial shock and disbelief, then the wave of disappointment, followed by the intense desire to run screaming from the room? Well, hold on to that feeling as you read the following synopsis of Kiss Daddy Goodnight.
Uma Thurman, in her first big-screen role, is one disturbed young woman. She gets all dolled up and goes prowling for wealthy, middle-aged men, who of course tumble right into her slim-fingered clutches because, well, she's Uma Thurman for God's sake. Big mistake, though, because once she's flirted her way into their tastefully appointed condos, she drugs them unconscious and robs them blind. Sure, she's an amoral predator, but hey, it's a living—it has to beat waitressing, anyway.
Everything changes, however, when a kindly neighbor, an older gent who's a cultured intellectual (we know this because he says things like, "Dr. Zhivago, a pretentious little gem that was all the rage when we were living in Italy") enters her life, becoming her trusted friend and mentor. But is he all that he seems? Soon, the hunter becomes the hunted (okay, I admit it—I got that off the back of the DVD case) and Uma is drawn into a web of deception, obsession, and…need I say it? Murder.
That sounds pretty juicy, huh? We've got a young Uma Thurman, back when she was a dewy-eyed, baby-faced fawn, and not the hardcore manifestation of the Furies slashing her way through Kill Bill. We've got a titillating "dark seductress" storyline involving a provocatively-dressed Uma being pawed at by slobbering bozos. We've got a slightly kinky, extremely creepy relationship between Uma and the Professor. And let's not forget the aforementioned deception, obsession, and murder. All the ingredients of a top-notch, sexy thriller. Oh, and lest I forget, the film also features Steve Buscemi in a small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it role. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Don't you believe it!
You know you're in trouble when the first shot of the movie looks like a 1970s documentary shot on video and transferred to film using a handheld Super-8 camera. No, wait. Actually, at that point you only suspect you're in trouble. You're still in the first stage of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler Ross's five stages of grief: denial. You figure it's just a close up of a TV set that Uma's watching, and pretty soon the camera will pull back and she'll be making out with some distinguished looking rich dude, hopefully halfway out of a slinky black cocktail dress. But soon, realization dawns: this is the actual movie.
That's when the Commodore 64-generated opening credits roll.
I'm not sure what was the most laughably awful thing about this movie. There are so many candidates, yipping against the glass like eager, stumbling puppies. Is it the grainy, fuzzed-out look of the film, an obvious homage to 1970s porn booth loops? Or Uma's co-star, Paul Dillon (brother of Matt), who apparently only got the unibrow portion of the Dillon genes and none of the acting ability? But no, by far the most head-splittingly abysmal thing about this wretched facsimile of a thriller is the bizarre, jazzy soundtrack, which is omnipresent, loud, and sounds exactly like a steel drum full of cats being squeezed through a gigantic cheese grater. (Don't ask me how I know this.) Apparently everyone in the city listens to the same radio station, which plays Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music 24 hours a day.
The strange thing about Kiss Daddy Goodnight is that the whole "deception, obsession, murder" theme takes up only about half of the actual movie. A good chunk of the film's 90-minute running time is devoted to Paul's search for an old friend, "Johnny," a search that will take Paul, like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, deep into the heart of darkness. Or rather, boredom, since Paul's search mainly involves him shuffling into a succession of businesses, asking someone where Johnny is, getting yelled at, and shuffling out. By the time you actually see Johnny, this quest is so built up that you're expecting a bald Marlon Brando at the very least. No Brando, but you get the next best thing: Steve Buscemi, who delivers the only decent acting in the entire movie, proving that the man cannot give a bad performance, no matter how awful his surroundings. Buscemi's all-too-brief appearance is a breath of fresh air in a stench-choked monkeyhouse.
Kiss Daddy Goodnight comes to us courtesy of Artisan Home Entertainment in, and I quote, "Digitally Mastered" full screen video, with a "2.0 Digital Stereo" audio track. The court reminds Artisan that perjury is a serious offense, punishable by imprisonment and/or fines. The court further gives Artisan 30 days to amend its claim to read "Putrid, Sub-VHS-Level, Badly-Panned-and-Scanned Video" and "Muddy Monaural Sound Apparently Recorded on a Miniature Tape Recorder." For special features, we get scene selections, which in this case is actually a bonus feature, since it allows a viewer to get the gist of the film without having to actually sit through it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As awful as Kiss Daddy Goodnight is, and believe me, it is, it's not without redeeming qualities. It may have all the production values of a corporate training video, but it has a certain gritty, Warholian urban hipness to it that sort of made me think there was more going on here than met the eye. If you've ever seen Andy Warhol's Trash or Flesh, you'll recognize bits and pieces of those films' grimy vérité style at work here. Either that, or the film's merely ineptly shot on a cheapo budget. I leave it to the viewer to make that call for him- or herself.
There's also a certain bizarro charm in Paul Richards' performance as Uma's aged creepazoid mentor. Intellectual characters written by non-intellectual screenwriters are always a hoot, simply because of the ridiculous lines they spout that are supposed to mark them as profound thinkers, and Richards delivers his pompous "highbrow" dialogue with Baudelairean flair. Richards's finest moment in the film is when he dines with Uma and later, in a breathtakingly operatic scene, flashes back to his memories of his daughter (predictably, a dead ringer for Uma) while caressing his pet rabbit. Watching Richards manically stroke his, um, rabbit while lost in his creepy fantasies, one wonders why he pretty much dropped out of the movie biz after Kiss Daddy Goodnight. No, not really.
Clearly, these oddball touches indicate an artistic vision at work. It may not be a good vision. Or even a watchable one. But it's a vision, and I must give director Peter Ily Huemer at least that much credit.
Diehard fans of Uma who have money to burn will want to pick up this disc as a historical artifact of her first screen role (and, truth to tell, while her inexperience shows in this film, so does her presence and potential). Extremely diehard fans of Steve Buscemi may also be interested. Everyone else is advised to steer well clear of this noxious dud.
As further evidence of Huemer's artistic intentions (or rather, pretensions), the film ends with a quote by poet Paul Celan. I can think of no more appropriate way to conclude this review than with that selfsame quote:
Seek not on my lips your mouth
Seven nights higher
All parties to Kiss Daddy Goodnight are cleared on all charges, as they have already suffered enough.
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