Killing Me Softly

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Review byMatthew Turner25/06/2002

Two out of five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Spectacularly awful film that’s actually funnier than many so-called comedies – gratuitous nudity, dodgy sex scenes, hilariously bad dialogue, atrocious acting, this has got the lot.

Fans of Chinese director Chen Kaige’s previous film, the Oscar-nominated Farewell My Concubine, would be well advised to lower their expectations, quality-wise, for his English language debut.

It may have started out with delusions of seriousness (it’s based on a novel by journalists Sean French and Nicci Gerrard), but the result is an attempt at a glossy ‘erotic thriller’ (think late night Channel 5, with actors you recognise) that is gloriously, spectacularly and frequently hilariously bad. So bad, in fact, that it’s actually rather good.

Instantly smitten

Heather Graham stars as Alice, an American woman living in London and shacked up with Jason Hughes (Warren from ‘This Life’). One day she’s standing at a pedestrian crossing, minding her own business, when her hand brushes that of Mysterious Stranger Joseph Fiennes. She is instantly smitten, takes the afternoon off and nips back to his place for an afternoon of rampant shagging. (Observed by Fiennes’ cat, who appears to be grinning).

Fiennes turns out to be a mountaineer (“I climb mountains. That’s what I do”). But not just any mountaineer. A mountaineer with a Dark Secret. An amusing courtship then ensues, in which Fiennes runs like an ostrich and then beats a man half to death before proposing. (This is, perhaps, the funniest scene of the year). They get married. And only then does Alice begin to wonder if she hasn’t, in fact, married a psychopath…

’Deer trapped in headlights’

As hilariously bad movies go, this is truly one to be savoured. The acting is appalling, with Graham doing her ‘deer trapped in headlights’ act throughout and Fiennes labouring under the delusion that looking constipated equates to ‘Dark and Brooding’. (Note to his agent: Never, ever let this man run onscreen again). The characters are laughable too, particularly Fiennes and his penchant for photographing all his girlfriends topless next to the same gravestone.

Frankly, all pretensions to realism go out the window in the very first scene, when Graham and Hughes buy The Guardian and The Observer ON THE SAME DAY. It isn’t as if it’s just intermittently bad – every scene is misjudged or atrocious in some way. It certainly seems as if Kaige’s interpreter took a few weeks off mid-shoot…

A Japanese prostitute in glorious technicolour

The costumes are also hilarious – in fact it’s hard not to think that the costume designer realised how bad the film was and thought ‘To hell with it, let’s have some fun’, because Graham appears variously looking like a Japanese prostitute in glorious technicolour, and also wears an Arran jumper wedding dress that is worth the price of admission alone.

As for the sex scenes, they are definitely of the ‘Don’t try this at home!’ variety, the kinkiest of which involves silk scarves on some sort of pulley system, which must have taken a good passion-killing ten minutes to set up.

As a general rule, if your audience is more worried about the leading lady getting splinters, then the sex scene probably isn’t working. Still if you’re thinking of seeing this for purely Shallow And Obvious Reasons (either Fiennes-related or Graham-related) then you probably won’t be disappointed.

In short, make no mistake about it, Killing Me Softly is a very, VERY bad film indeed. However, if you abandon all thoughts of enjoying it as a thriller, there are plenty of unintentional laughs to be had along the way. Fans of gloriously bad movies (with a little sex in them) are in for a real treat.

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Content updated: 21/01/2019 14:06

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