Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Directed by Shane Black
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a comedy along the lines of Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty. If you liked Pulp Fiction, you should see Kiss Kiss – if you loved Pulp Fiction as I did (to the point of seeing it multiple times) you probably will want to own Kiss Kiss on DVD – it’s so funny that once won’t be enough. The dark humor invites you to laugh at some very gruesome scenes – a corpse is discovered in a bathtub while our protagonist is taking a leak – he’s so stunned that he pees all over it – and then has to explain that to his buddy over the phone.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, a thief in New York City who, while being chased by the cops, accidentally bursts into an audition for a movie and nails it. Harry is then whisked off to Hollywood – parties, hot babes, etc. – and put in touch with a detective (Val Kilmer as “Gay Perry” – a pun… Ha Ha!) who’s charged with teaching him some real-life sleuthing in preparation for his movie role.
At a party, Harry runs into Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), a high school honey that he has been frustratingly pining over for years. There are flashbacks showing Harry and Harmony as kids, but their appearances as adults seem at odds – Harry looks quite a bit older so it seems implausible that they’re the same age – no big deal though. Harmony is an aspiring actress with just one credit to show for years of trying: a cheesy beer commercial featuring a talking bear – good show biz parody. The costume designers did a bang-up job of giving Michelle Monaghan a variety of cool, sexy outfits to complement her good looks and tell us about this archetypal Hollywood character: the beautiful, earnest, deserving but struggling young actress. Ms. Monaghan has a talent for extreme facial expression – and it’s put to good use here. This script is full of extreme situations and she’s well cast playing these screwball, while simultaneously hyper-violent, scenes.
The tangled plot involves a series of pulp novel-style murders that Harry and Gay Perry set out to solve – against the familiar backdrop of Hollywood – a hilariously satirized Hollywood. This humor is smart and well performed – loads of clever dialog and absurd LA characters -- but never so “inside” that non-industry folks can’t enjoy it. The Hollywood appeal is enhanced by making Harry such an ordinary loser-type who gets propelled into these whacky but glamorous situations. It’s easy to identify with Harry since he’s an outsider.
Director Shane Black made his mark almost two decades ago as a screenwriter in the action genre – he wrote the Lethal Weapon movies. If Kiss Kiss is any indication, his talents have been wasted on action films – it seems to me much harder to write a great off-beat comedy like this than some formulaic action thriller. Kiss Kiss shows so much wit, so much clever social commentary – all while charging along at a breakneck pace and delivering many, many laughs. I hope that Shane Black resists the temptation to go back to his [lucrative] old chops – this film demonstrates a potent ability to tell an innovative comic tale with flailing style – please keep it up… and don’t go back.
I consider Robert Downey Jr. one of the greatest actors of our time and this film his best work in the sense that it’s a very well written script and he absolutely knocks it out of the park with a great performance. He and Val Kilmer played off each other very well – Harry as the bumbling novice private eye and Gay Perry as the assured, seasoned professional. It’s a classic mismatched buddy scenario – Harry is always screwing up and losing his cool while Gay Perry has to contain the damage and calm Harry down.
While Kiss Kiss is one of the funniest movies to come down the pike in quite a while, I must qualify that: the viewer must enjoy the dark but screwball style of comedy. Not everybody does – I don’t expect Kiss Kiss to do huge box office. It didn’t get much of a promotional push – probably because Warner Brothers almost certainly saw this as very clever little film that has virtually no chance of appealing to a broad audience. It’s also not such a highly visual film – there are some clever shots but not much gorgeous cinematography – so it won’t lose much in the transition from 35mm to DVD. I still recommend seeing it in a theater – I enjoyed the audience reaction to the outrageously funny mayhem -- scene after scene had the crowd in convulsions. If this sounds like your style of humor, see it soon.
Images are copyright Warner Brothers Pictures.
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