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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A couple years ago Shane Black, the hot shot wunderkind enfant terrible wave of the future 22 year old millionaire kid who wrote LETHAL WEAPON and a couple other movies, then got burnt out and disappeared for years, suddenly resurfaced as the writer-director of this well-received if not smash hit smart-alecky mystery comedy. I heard alot of good things about it so one Wednesday afternoon I checked the movie times and went downtown to see it. Unfortunately this was the day that movie about 50 Cent came out and all the showings of KISS KISS BANG BANG had been dropped without the movie times being updated online. I was so hurt that I didn’t watch the movie until just the other day.

Fortunately this one lives up to the word-of-the-mouth. This summer everybody’s excited about Robert Downey Jr.’s funny turn and ad-libs in IRON MAN, but it must’ve been less surprising to people who saw this one. Not only is Downey the star, he is the narrator who possesses the powers of someone recording a DVD commentary. He can skip around, make jokes, apologize for bad narration, complain about movie conventions (specifically comparing one scene to a shot in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER).

Kiss Kiss Bang BangYes, the movie is covered in meta. You got that all powerful narration, you also got a character obsessed with an old pulp detective series called Johnnie Gossamer, so the mystery elements of the story of course mirrors the types of things that would have happened in those books if they were real books. But also a movie adaptation of the books figures heavily into the plot. All of this could easily be annoying, but I guess Downey and Black are just good enough at it for it to come across more as genuine wit than as smarmy hipsters trying to show off.

But I guess to be fair they are showing off. The movie is extremely writerly. If you’re familiar with Shane Black you know the conversations are gonna go at lightning speed and all the characters are gonna have insults and smartass responses that you yourself would never come up with until a week later. Val Kilmer gets to call Robert Downey Jr. an idiot in many different ways. Like:

“Jesus. Look up ‘idiot’ in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?”
“A picture of me?”
“No! The definition of the word idiot, which you fucking are!”

Stylized dialogue like that can be distracting, but here I don’t think it is. They pull it off and it’s a big part of the movie’s appeal.

The story unfolds in that seemingly random way that alot of my favorite pulp writers’ stories do. Lots of goofy little things happen in just the right sequence that happens to bring together a bunch of characters and a bunch of guns. At first Downey’s character seems to be a bigshot actor, but then we find out he’s just some dude who was running from the cops and happened to run into a casting session. His actual guilt over getting his friend shot by police is mistaken for a raw improvised performance and next thing you know he’s poolside at a big Hollywood party. The female lead Michelle Monaghan (the gal from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: 3 who looks kind of like Liv Tyler) is at the party for similarly random reasons involving the accidental shooting of a drunk TV star dressed as a cyborg. In this movie things don’t happen for normal reasons.

I like the way the story pays tribute to noir but doesn’t follow it as stringently as you keep naively thinking it’s going to. There are alot of good laughs that come from seeming to use a normal movie convention and then actually not. For example the heroine stumbles onto the clue that solves the whole mystery, so the heroes go chasing after her knowing she’s getting herself into danger. But later they learn that she is actually at home because she decided her theory was stupid and forgot about it.

In a way I think maybe Black’s hiatus helped rejuvenate him. It put him back in the just-don’t-give-a-fuck mentality of a guy in his early 20s who doesn’t know what he’s doing. For me the biggest laugh in the movie involves a bodily mutilation that really has no important purpose in the story but just is something that could easily happen if people are slamming doors during emotional conversations. He must’ve been watching some movie with a door slamming argument and thought “You know what I’m gonna do in my next movie?” Either or that or he was writing the argument, jokingly thought of doing this, and then realized “Why the fuck not?” The motto of every great writer, from Mark Twain to the guy who did Choose Your Own Adventure.

Black definitely cuts it as a director. The performances are all good, it looks nice and slick, it’s well-paced, nice uses of music, the bits of action work well. I definitely wouldn’t guess this was a writer-turned-first-time-director deal. So Black and Downey both came through when it counted, but I also gotta take my metaphorical hat off to Val Kilmer as the toughest character in the movie, “Gay” Perry. He’s a private investigator working for the producer of the movie. He’s supposed to help Downey prepare for his role but ends up being his partner and savior when he gets into trouble. Perry also happens to be openly gay and is too self-assured and capable for anybody to successfully give him shit about it.

In some movies Kilmer doesn’t come across too well – he can seem like kind of a weirdo who thinks he’s smarter and more interesting than he actually is. Not this one though. In this one he’s alot like his character in SPARTAN. Not as much of an asshole, but it’s another guy who always knows what to do at the drop of a hat (another metaphorical hat, but not necessarily the same one I tipped in the last paragraph), can always figure out what people are trying to pull on him and knows how to fight his way out even if it involves firing a small gun from inside his underwear (long story).

I would love to see sequels to this. Not because there’s anything about the plot that should be followed up on, but just because I would like to see those two characters come back and get involved in other cases. Well, that ain’t gonna happen, so I’ll settle for Black sticking around for a while as writer-director.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, July 13th, 2008 at 5:54 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”

  1. I just watched this again today, so I thought I’d check and see if you wrote it up – and here we are. I was totally surprised when I first saw this a couple years back; absolutely loved this flick. Great writing and Black knocked it out of the park his first time directing. Downey and Kilmer were kickass and Michelle Monaghan (the first time I’d ever seen her) was just. . .lovely. Sweet and likeable and exactly the kind of girl you’d still think about years later. Glad to see you dug it too, man.

  2. I kinda wish there was a… well, an opposite of a director’s cut (a studio executive’s cut?) where the “meta” was cut out. Get rid of the “I’m a bad narrator” parts and the scene with Abe Lincoln and play it a little straighter. The three leads are so strong here that they could’ve pulled it off as a modern noir. As it stands it’s a pretty good movie but not great.

    And it’s a shame Michelle Monaghan never really caught on in Hollywood.

  3. Well said M. Casey, the movie would have been fine w/o the too cute for school gimmick’s. MM was very sexy and Val hasn’t been better since. Downey is always good but you have to say Val really stood out in this one.

  4. THE NICE GUYS Official Red Band Trailer (2016) Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe

    http://www.joblo.com - THE NICE GUYS Official Red Band Trailer (2016) Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe

    This looks awesome.

  5. Very promising, I´d say!

  6. It seems like the type of pastich on the hardboiled detective genre just like KISS KISS BANG BANG. I can´t wait for this!

  7. I m so looking forward to the weird combination of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in the hands of Shane Black that it hurts. The trailer does do a bit of dumb stuff, like the funky shit that makes the film look like a goddamn OCEAN 11 film. Which I have heard from people I´ve shared the trailer with.

  8. I’m not really getting the 1977 vibe from the trailer, but the movie look awsome!

  9. Not enough Tie fighters, pegsman?

  10. I’m trying to stay as pure as possible on this one. Shane “Mine’s As Big As A House” Black has my money for life so there’s no need to waste valuable marketing dollars on me. The name alone is enough to get me in the door.

  11. I mean, KISS KISS BANG BANG made me pretty sure Black was making movies specifically for me. Setting his next crime movie in the glorious year of my birth just seals it. The least I can do to repay him is go see it with as little spoilage as possible.

  12. I would think since this trailer shows an awful lot of the movie that if you didn’t like what you saw, I couldn’t imagine you liking the movie. I liked what I saw.

  13. Majestyk- You are doing yourself a favor by not watching the trailer. Trust us who did watch it. It was good.

  14. Oh, I’ll like it. Black has a 110% success rate for me, meaning I don’t just like but love everything he’s got his name on. This trailer doesn’t need to sell me on shit. He had me at “Hey Mo.”

  15. ” Lets play a game: Shut up unless you´re me” I love it!

  16. I´ve watched the trailer like five times. There is no way the movie will surprise me now. I don´t give shit, though.

  17. I’m sure you guys would disagree with me but if any movie deserved a remake or a redo it would be Shane Black’s The Long Kiss Goodnight. I just feel like that if he could have another crack at it and maybe direct it himself, it would be the classic I so wish it were.

  18. yeah, I don´t like it as much. It could have been great with a different director

  19. So many Shane Black fans and yet nobody but me ever talked about his Amazon Pilot on here…

  20. CJ: I’ve been meaning to see that. I think it’s kind of stupid how Amazon just shows the pilots and doesn’t give them series orders, like Netflix does.

  21. I just found out about it this second. Did it not get picked up?

  22. The “Pilot Season” isn’t over yet and no decisions have been made yet, so vote or die!
    (Not many people seem to know that the reason behind Amazon showing those pilots, is to let the viewers vote for a continuation, which is why they are also viewable for people without Prime subscription.)

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