"After a robbery scam that goes bad, lovers Nikki and Al take off into the Australian outback, pursued by the police and a malevolent footballer named Zipper Doyle, and meet a number of offbeat characters." (Cover notes, DVD release)
A woman off camera explains how she has difficulty trusting people, especially men, because of things she saw when she was young. This comment introduces a prologue in which a little girl watches helplessly as a man, presumably her father, appears at the door, douses her mother with petrol and sets her alight.
The young girl, now a woman in her twenties, is Nikki Davies (Frances O'Connor). Nikki and her boyfriend, Al Fletcher (Matt Day), are small-time criminals who target married businessmen. Nikki picks up a charmless patent attorney in a bar and accompanies him back to his room where she slips something in his drink. The man passes out, Nikki lets Al into the room and they begin casing it for valuables.
Then things start to go wrong. Al discovers their mark is not merely unconscious but dead. They flee the scene but back at their place the situation gets more complicated. A video in the patent attorney's briefcase features a famous ex-footballer, Zipper Doyle, engaged in pedophilia. Enraged, Nikki leaves an abusive message on the answering machine at Doyle's gym. Meanwhile, Al fast-forwards to the next scene in the video. Doyle is with a woman who looks disconcertingly similar to Nikki.
At the break of day, the lovers depart Adelaide, setting out across the Nullabor Plain for Perth. Soon they are being pursued by Doyle - who wants his tape back - as well as the police. That night they stop at a motel in the middle of nowhere, run by a lonely eccentric by the name of Stan (Max Cullen). Stan's attempts at hospitality backfire when Nikki's shirt catches alight over a dinner of fondue. This incident and a sleepwalking episode later that night not only underscore the lovers' precarious situation but also serve as reminders of Nikki's horrible past.
At a truck stop the next morning, Nikki overhears that Stan has been murdered. She demands to see Al's wallet and finds it stuffed full of cash. Al insists he only robbed Stan. Back on the road, the couple become aware that they are being followed. Al realises it's Zipper Doyle and veers off-road. Doyle fires at them and chases after in pursuit. Fortunately for Nikki and Al, Doyles' Jaguar can't manage the territory their 4WD can.
Pulling over to get their bearings, they make a bizarre discovery. Adler Jones (Barry Otto) has been hiding in the boot. While Al is on the verge of attacking Adler, Nikki is persuaded by Adler's offer of help. Adler suggests the couple stay at his place nearby (amusingly located in a former nuclear testing site). When they arrive and meet Adler's wife Bel (Jennifer Cluff), Al acknowledges the apparent wisdom of Nikki's instinct to trust Adler.
The next morning Nikki discovers Adler and Bel dead in their beds, their throats cut. Al appears and knocks Nikki out. Evidently he has decided Nikki must be committing the murders - only semi-consciously in her sleep - and ties her up at a safe-house. It is here that the police finally catch up with the couple. However, after a night in a cell a strange lawyer turns up and organises bail. He drives the bemused lovers to a motel where he instructs them to wait. Suddenly Zipper Doyle appears and forces them at gun-point to get into his car.
By now the police have discovered Doyle's participation in a pedophilia ring and are pursuing him as well as Nikki & Al. When Doyle sees a road-block he begins issuing commands to Nikki who is in the driver's seat. Nikki ignores him and drives straight into the road-block. Doyle is killed in the crash, the lovers are only wounded. In a concluding voice-over Nikki explains who was responsible for the murders on the road and how they got off for the death of the patent-attorney (always wipe your prints and only target pedophiles).
Bill Bennett originally got the idea to make the film while shooting Backlash at Broken Hill. He was talking with a crew member who started sharpening a Rambo knife and joked that he could easily kill Bennett and no one would ever know. The encounter unsettled Bennett and inspired him to write a story about a relationship where you did not completely know the other person. He worked on this 18 or 20 times over the next ten years but could never get the story right. Then he wrote it in three weeks and was satisfied.
The is no music at any point throughout the film. The credits roll by silently, and even the DVD menu uses only ambient sound. Thanks to the frequent jump cuts, the lack of music is rarely even noticeable. The silence in the movie was used by Bennett to emphasize the tense nature of uncomfortable situations.
Kiss or Kill was the first Australian film to be described as film noir. However, Kiss or Kill is often referred to as a thriller, due to the films unique presentation and regular use of red herrings to trick the audience. The film is an outback road movie, like many released around the same time and takes place on the outback roads of rural Australia.
Through the main characters, the film also takes on a less cliched lovers-on-the-run aspect. Rather than the usual setup of rebels running from oppression, the movie portrays the detectives chasing them as clever jokers. Al and Nikki are often shown to be flawed, overemotional people. Throughout the movie there are also traces of black humour, usually shown by the detectives.
Kiss or Kill grossed $929,021 at the box office in Australia.
Kiss or Kill holds an 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as a hard-hitting, effective piece of cinema. James Berardinelli criticized what he regarded as a cliched plot line and tacky editing. Urban Cinephile wrote, "Matt Day's good looks belie a certain undercurrent which he uses to full effect in his character of Al."
A favourite scene for many reviewers was the comedic scene between the two detectives, nicknamed the “bacon scene”. This scene takes place at a roadside diner, as the detectives have a conversation about how the younger of the two, Crean, doesn't eat bacon. James Berardinelli stated in his review of the film, the scene begins similar to something from Pulp Fiction, with the conversation being borderline-hysterical. David O’Connell described the scene as having a classic, wordless punchline which is worth the wait. This scene was also the only scene with fully written dialogue in the film.
At the 1997 AFI awards, Kiss or Kill won five out of a nominated eleven awards, including Best Film, Best Achievement in Editing, Best Achievement in Direction, Best Achievement in Sound and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Andrew S. Gilbert). It was also nominated for the Gold Hugo Best Film award of 1997 at the [Chicago international Film Festival]. Frances O'Connor won Best Actress at the 1997 Montreal World Film Festival along with Wayne Peashley for Best Artistic Contribution in relation to sound, the film was also nominated for the Grand Prix des Amériques. In 1998 the film received recognition at the Film Critics Circle of Australia awards, winning five out of a possible eight nominated awards including best film.