Kill Or Be Killed (1993)

 Kill Or Be Killed (1993)- * *

Directed by: Joe Straw

Starring: David Heavener, Joe Nuzzolo, and Lyn Levand

Michael and Charlie Julian (Nuzzolo and Heavener, respectively) are drug-dealing brothers who want to move up in the cocaine trade. When their latest deal is foiled by a police raid, Michael takes the rap and goes to jail for eight years. When he gets out, Charlie now has slicked-back hair, wears a suit, and is still a gangster baddie but is more "corporate" about it. A woman named Beth (Levand) is torn between the two men. During their latest drug deal, with a Korean gang called The Kim Brothers, a briefcase of money and coke goes missing. Charlie is understandably upset, which then paves the way for the final showdown. Who will KILL and who will BE KILLED?

As we all know, AIP stands for "Action International Pictures" - and while there is some gun shootin' in Kill or Be Killed (which is not to be confused with the 1976 film of the same name), it's really more of what you'd call a gangster drama. Our guess is that David Heavener probably liked working on this film because he gets to stretch his acting chops. But does the viewer really care?

It's no Prime Target (1991) or Fugitive X: Innocent Target (1996), or any other Heavener outing that has the word "Target" in the title. The more serious tone doesn't even allow for any of Heavener's patented country-fried musical numbers. It's hard to know what films KOBK was influenced by or what this was actually trying to BE. Most video store patrons who take home a VHS tape called Kill or Be Killed, which features a picture of Heavener with a gun, flanked by scantily-clad women encased in bullets (none of which are in the film, of course) are not going to be completely pleased with a slow-moving drama that sure as heck isn't going to give David Mamet any sleepless nights.

Except for the scenes when Heavener is clad only in a Speedo, everyone in this film only wears suits and ties, making it the original Suits. Or perhaps the AIP Glengarry Glen Ross. There are many, many scenes in offices and boardrooms. Or maybe it's only just one. It's tough to tell.

The film OPENS with a love montage, which is quite unusual. We'll give KOBK some points for originality there. Beth has fantastic hair, which can't be described but can only be seen. Michael looks like Mark Dacascos, the main police officer on the case looks like Jeff Goldblum, and other characters look like other people. An actor named Royce Dudley plays Jesse, and he is really the standout here. He really gives it his all. He should have done more, both in this film and elsewhere.

KOBK was directed by one Joe Straw, which sounds like a fake name. We wondered if he was a sort of cipher, or an American Eagle-esque "straw man". But no, he appears to be a real person. His main job in Hollywood was Production Accountant on many films. This and a film called The Intruder from the same year (1993) are his only directorial credits to date. Maybe because he was an accountant, that explains why there are so many boardroom scenes with suited men.

It does have that "AIP Vibe" so if you enjoy that, it is plentiful here. KOBK will most likely be too low budget and slow for most audiences. We've seen far, far worse, but simply an acting showcase for all involved lacks the hooks needed to pull in an audience, not to mention keep them there over time. That's why Kill or Be Killed will likely remain on the forgotten video store shelf of history. There are worse fates for your movie, for sure, but this status appears to be permanent.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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