At first emulating the grit found in the films of Ken Loach, then the Irish humanism of Jim Sheridan, but in the main fairy tales from Grimm to preteen-runaway TV exploitation, Kisses falls into an abyss of cheap coming-of-age melodrama. It’s the Loach poaching of the opening 15 minutes that works best, as 11-year-old neighbors Kylie (a promising Kelly O’Neill) and Dylan (morose Shane Curry) take refuge in dumbwaiters and under dressers to escape family abuse, and brusquely comfort each other at curbside in their dreary edge-of-Dublin, highway-straddling purgatory. Kylie flirts and bonks Dylan on the head with a baton toss while warning him, with transparent foreshadowing, of the roaming Sack Man, who abducts and bludgeons children and animals; the boy snorts that “parents are always makin’ up shit to control ya.” Soon a Christmastide domestic brawl forces Dylan to flee after skulling Da with an ashtray, and the young pair runs off to the center of the metropolis, with Kylie grabbing a cash roll that soon shods them both in Wheelies (a 2007 time-capsule touch).
Aside from a groan-worthy transition from black and white to color as the runaways escape the hinterlands, writer-director Lance Daly supplies a host of pedestrian picaresque episodes, with the kids encountering kindly strangers like an immigrant dredge-boat captain, a downtown busker, and an affectionate slum-dwelling woman with transcendental lips. Also troweled on are an irritating number of Bob Dylan references (with a cursory Stephen Rea cameo in Bob drag), notes of confessional dread, and a bogeyman thriller plot when the Sack Man’s doppelganger enters in an ominous sedan to kidnap Kylie and turn asthmatic Dylan into a fighter and a lover. In spite of the kids’ authentically salty talk and some neon beauty found in nighttime Dublin retail avenues, the mundane adventure of Kisses trivializes the suffering and yearnings of hardscrabble youth.