Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Climate for Killing (USA, 1991)

A Climate for Killing starts off with Yuma Sheriff Kyle Shipp (John Beck) first being confronted with a headless and handless body of a woman and, soon thereafter, with a barbecued Mexican. With the help of his alcoholic coroner Grace Hines (Katherine Ross) he links the woman to a murder-suicide long-since forgotten and ends up putting his life, job and honor on the line so as to get his man. He is accompanied most of the time by Paul McGraw (Steven Bauer), a big-city surveyor sent to review and restructure his department, who also starts to woo his bitchy daughter Elise (Mia Sara). The film meanders along at a very slow, no-chance-of-a-heart-attack-here pace. Needless to say, all ends well and bygones become bygones and love conquers all and gag me with a spoon.
The first of J.S. Cardone's various American Southwest films, A Climate for Killing is probably the least interesting of them all. The main flaw lies in the script which, as normal for a Cardone film, was penned by the man himself. While the mystery, general plot and story development itself holds water well — even if the murderer is much too easy to figure out — the characterization, character development and various subplots are annoyingly flat and predictable, somewhere on the level of a bad television flick. Likewise, Paul & Elise are completely unnecessary, uninteresting characters that serve little other than to pad the film and annoy the viewer, a failed attempt at adding "emotional depth" to the thriller that adds little other than boredom. (In terms of sunburnt, desert murder mysteries infused with interesting character development and relationship-based subplots, John Sayles' Lone Star (1996/trailer) is definitely miles better — and much more unsettling for the Average Joe.)
Katherine Ross, a bright star of the late sixties in such films as The Graduate (1967) and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969) who disappeared into the nether regions of bad television movies throughout the 80s does well as the alcoholic coroner, and John Beck is fine as the sheriff, but Steven Bauer is again miscast, his inert sliminess much better suited for such (small) parts as the drug lord in Traffic (2000). Mia Sara (shown here in some other flick) is simply Mia Sara, like normal.
In general, A Climate for Killing might be a substantial step up in class from Cardone's far-more entertaining first film Nightmare Island (1982/trailer), but it isn't half as interesting as his Red Rock West (1992) influenced and much more convoluted Black Day, Blue Night (1995/trailer) nor half as laughably fun as his much more trashy Alien (1979) rip-off Shadowzone (1990/trailer). Definitely not essential viewing.

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