Synopsis: They say love and money don’t mix, but you can’t blame Harry Lockhart for trying. He’s been whisked from a life of petty crime to Hollywood, where he’ll audition for the role of a movie detective and be tutored for the part by a private eye. Now all Harry has to do is convince the dream girl he meets that he’s an actual detective. And try not to stumble over the corpses as reel life abruptly gives way to the real.
Lights, camera, plenty of action! Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) provides the screenplay and makes his directing debut in a clever fusion of buddy movie and hardboiled noir produced by Joel Silver. Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan play the thrust-together trio – a naÃ¯ve schemer, a tough-as-nails gay detective, and a hopeful actress clinging to her dream. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Watch Watch.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 8.75
eyelights: its main cast. its playful structure. its witty dialogues. its wry humour. its twists and turns.
eyesores: its title. its opening credits.
“Merry Christmas. Sorry I fucked you over.”
I know, I know… it’s called ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’. It’s a !@#$ dumb title. The original theme song of ‘Thunderball‘ was “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, a tribute to Japanese fans who had nicknamed Bond such. Even as a massive fan of James Bond music, it always made me roll my eyes. So you can just imagine my reaction when I first heard of this movie.
Ugh. I may have strained my eyes.
It didn’t help, of course, that it starred Val Kilmer, whom I despise, and Robert Downey Jr., who left me quite indifferent at the time, his career being as spotty as it was then. But then I read a review from a trusted source that lavished it with praise, and it put the picture on my radar. So when I got the chance to buy it brand new for something like 6$, I pounced on it.
An you know what? It was a total treat.
Set in Los Angeles over the course of four days, ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ follows Harry Lockhart as he’s plucked out of obscurity (and a pathetic life of petty theft) to star in a Hollywood film. Studying under Perry van Shrike, a local private investigator, Harry winds up caught in a murder mystery that has criminals on his tail and Harmony, a former flame, tagging along.
It’s a sort of film noir/buddy cop/romantic comedy hybrid movie – with a Christmas backdrop.
You know the kind.
Though it began with little promise, with a limp ’50/’60s retro style opening credits sequence backed by an anemic jazz soundtrack, suggesting a pulp-style vibe that doesn’t jive with its much more modern look and tone, things quickly kicked into high gear thanks to a fourth wall-breaking narration by a deliciously tongue-in-cheek Robert Downey Jr.
The picture relies very much on his delivery, in his ability to make Harry credibly quick-witted and sarcastic. Thankfully, Downey, jr. brings enough intelligence to the part to make it believable. Of course, it helps that he’s paired up with Val Kilmer, who imbues Perry with self-assuredness, exactitude and a dry wry wit that’s scorching in contrast to Harry’s.
The interplay between Downey Jr. and Kilmer is the highlight of the picture. Though the material is very strong, no other duo could have made it work in quite the way that these two do – they have tremendous chemistry together. Throw in a smart and sassy Michelle Monaghan as Downey Jr.’s love interest and our trio couldn’t be more impeccable.
Shane Black, the screenwriter who made his name with ‘Lethal Weapon’ and other blockbuster action comedies, had originally intended to write a romantic comedy but then decided to inject elements of the plot from ‘Bodies Are Where You Find Them’ by Brett Halliday, as well as elements of Raymond Chandler, whose works he read as he prepared his script.
This is why the script pops as much as it does, delivering at the very least a laugh a minute. Though most of it is darkly comic, not sitcomy, goofy or pratfally, it manages to lighten the proceedings quite well. It’s also quite cynical about Hollywood (the people, the business, its superficiality, the spiritual damage it belies), and dissects it delightfully.
It also keeps its audience on the edge of its seat by slathering the plot with layers upon layers, and frequently unexpected twists and turns. Though it can come off as convoluted, it works contextually – especially since the villain has based his ploy on a series of pulp novels that he’s extremely fond of; the picture’s structure is a reflection of those books.
Personally, I love just how “real world” Black made his characters, with a lead who’s very much an average guy, a failure, who accidentally gets grievously injured and who initially only kills by mistake. And it’s great that they have to deal with realistic reflections about their lives, how things didn’t work out as they’d dreamed; it makes the characters relatable.
Speaking of the characters, I must add how much I like that Perry is gay, but that he’s the tough guy here: he’s a smart, capable expert who just so happens to be gay. That’s cool. I also like how Black handled the bigotry Perry has to face; he’s frequently on the receiving end of ignorant remarks, but he never lets it faze him – he takes the high road at all turns.
Look, I’d say more, but I think that ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ is best enjoyed with its surprises intact. Granted, there are many of them, but watching them unfold is what makes it such a hoot, especially given the pace at which Black delivers them. This is a picture with no lulls, but that balances action with character development and levity with seriousness really well.
Sadly, it was not a success upon its 2005 release. Despite being screened at Cannes and earning a standing ovation, it only played in 169 North American cinemas at its widest release. But, through word-of-mouth, it got a second life on home video and is now considered one of the great unsung action comedies from that era – and Shane Black’s greatest masterpiece.
Too bad it didn’t see the light of day under its origin title, “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again”.
Even it hadn’t made of it a success, at the very least my eyes would have gotten a rest.
Date of viewing: November 30, 2016