It's clear that Australian writer-director Bill Bennett sees Kiss or Kill as something more than standard criminal-lovers-on-the-run fare when he opens the film with a quote from Dylan Thomas' "Our Eunuch Dreams": "We watch the show of shadows kiss or kill, / Flavored of celluloid, give love the lie."
What follows is a self-conscious blend of Terrence Malick's Badlands and Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, with some Aussie sass tossed in for good measure. Bennett -- a veteran of Australian docudramas and one Hollywood outing, the grating Two If By Sea -- shot Kiss or Kill to look as if it was captured on the run, with lots of jittery hand-held camerawork and rapid, disorienting jump cuts.
The whole structure of the film, where seemingly cut and dried situations are repeatedly called into question, follows Bennett's theme that no matter how close two people believe they are, every human being is basically unknowable.
This is the case with Nikki (Frances O'Connor) and Al (Matt Day), 20-something con artists running a seduction-robbery scam on married business travelers. When the victim of a routine job accidentally dies, their criminal status is upped. It's further heightened when they discover a valuable blackmail item in the dead man's briefcase: A videotape showing Zipper Doyle (Barry Langrishe), a beloved former football (that's soccer to Americans) star, in bed with a young boy.
So as Nikki and Al flee across the Australian desert on a surreal road trip (leaving clues like bread crumbs behind them), the police and a ruthlessly determined Zipper are in hot pursuit. And everyone they encounter in this isolated landscape has a hidden agenda.
While Bill Bennett tries to keep the audience guessing and on edge -- using heightened sound effects with no music -- the overall effect is more tedious than mesmerizing. He doesn't even seem to know who Nikki and Al really are: natural born killers or just misunderstood misfits?
Despite its off-kilter sensibility and offbeat performances (especially O'Connor's enigmatic and volatile Nikki), Kiss or Kill is just more of the same old kiss kiss bang bang.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.