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Dressed to Kill

by on September 8, 2011
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My relationship with Brian De Palma is much like The Doctor’s with River Song, aside from all the sexual tension. Thanks to time-travel complications, those characters keep meeting in the wrong order. His future is her past. Growing up on films, I kept seeing new De Palma films like “Mission to Mars” and “The Black Dahlia” wondering why people regarded him so highly.

Then I watched “Blow Out” this summer and I got it. This was a movie by an exciting new voice who has a deep love of cinema. It was an understated masterpiece with a unique style and patience. “Dressed to Kill” is the movie he made just before “Blow Out” and … boy, is it a mess.

On one hand, it’s amazing. Visually, it’s fascinating. De Palma is a writer/director who has comfort in his own script and doesn’t need to have dialogue during a long sequence. The best scene is when Kate (Angie Dickinson) goes to a museum and sees a mysterious man. They move around the hallways in a flirtatious and dangerous manner. The emotions shift suddenly but thanks to the camera and performances, everything is clear.

There are plenty of moments of suspense juxtaposed by borderline ridiculous sexuality. The opening shower scenes last for so long you’re worried she may become too clean. Yet she’s only scrubbing certain body parts …

Then the rest of the movie is madness. Not in a fun “Kaboom” sort of way, but more like De Palma has no idea how to tell a story. The structure of the movie is this odd rip-off of “Psycho,” but he focuses on all the wrong parts. He tries to shift main characters and fails. Kate is a conflicted character who no longer feels attractive. Liz (Nancy Allen) is an overacting prostitute who only talks in sexy things De Palma wants to hear.

All of his tricks like the split screen or messing with the foreground made sense in “Blow Out” because they were responses to the themes and plot. This movie is a list of things that seem sorta interesting but don’t gel together. Michael Caine seems confused, Dennis Franz is acting crazy, I’m still not sure that Allen can act.

Then the movie ends and it’s terrible. It’s a lousy ending that isn’t very clever and once again, rips off “Psycho.” Then there’s another ending that is well shot and exciting but also doesn’t make any sense. There’s plenty of inventive style wasted on a mangled mess. I can see why De Palma made people excited as a director, but he rarely is able to put it all together.

If you love this movie, you’ll love the extras on the new Blu-ray. There is a 45-minute documentary about the making of this movie filled with awkward comments by De Palma and Dickinson. There are also a few more featurettes, a gallery and a trailer.

Film: 2.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps