Should I Watch..? 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' (2005)
What's the big deal?
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a comedic crime film released in 2005 and was written and directed by Lethal Weapon creator Shane Black in his directorial debut. The film is partly based on a novel by Brett Halliday called Bodies Are Where You Find Them and it serves as a deliberately light-hearted look at the traditionally cynical world of private detectives. The movie stars Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan and Corbin Bernsen. Despite positive reviews from critics, the film only just managed to recoup its modest $15 million budget - most of which was from overseas earnings. However, it would lead Black coming into contact with Downey Jr who recommended him to Marvel Studios when it came to choosing a director for the much-anticipated Iron Man 3, a gamble which resulted in more than $1.2 billion for that film.
What's it about?
Fleeing from the cops after a botched burglary and his accomplice who has just been shot, Harry Lockhart dives through a door and unwittingly into an audition for a Hollywood movie. After his behaviour impresses the casting coaches who mistake it for method acting, Harry finds himself signed up and attending a party thrown by retired actor Harlan Dexter. Harry is also told to get himself on-the-job experience for the role by working alongside private investigator "Gay" Perry van Shrike.
After bumping into his childhood crush Harmony Lane at the party, Harry and Perry witness a car being dumped into a lake in a highly suspicious fashion. The next day, Harmony explains to Harry (believing him to be a detective with Perry) that her sister Jenna came to LA, stole her bank cards and later killed herself. Harmony believes that Jenna was murdered and asks Harry to investigate on her behalf. Trouble is, the sunken car contains a different dead body to the one they'd hoped to find - Veronica Dexter, Harlan's estranged sister...
What's to like?
Most private-eye flicks are excessively complicated but thrive on the performance of the lead actor to come good. Thankfully, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has two incredible performances for the price of one. Robert Downey Jr. is delightfully off-kilter as Harry, thrown into a world he knows nothing about and having to rely on his wits and fast talking to keep him alive. It kinda feels like a preview of his performance as Tony Stark for the Iron Man series but he is completely upstaged by Kilmer as Gay Perry. Normally the weakest link in most of his movies, Kilmer's performance is brave and near-faultless as he trades insults and one-liners with one of the best in the business. Between them, their chemistry is absolute gold and the delivery is lightning quick.
While the two leads bicker and argue amongst themselves, a fairly decent mystery rumbles on in the background. Monaghan is a great femme fatale and suits this sort of neo-noir material perfectly, even if the obvious age difference between her and supposed school-friend Downey Jr. is pushing credibility a bit. Luckily, Black has a talent for writing action scenes that offer something a little different - remember the toilet bomb from Lethal Weapon 2 - and away from the barbed name-calling, the film's actually an entertaining (if somewhat complex) mystery that provides viewers with that rarest of treats - a picture that doesn't treat its audience like morons.
- Kilmer walked around in a $500 pair of Louis Vuitton driving shoes and wore nail varnish while experimenting with different speeches patterns for the role. Although this annoyed his son Jack somewhat, the role is considered one of the first openly gay characters to lead an action movie.
- The phrase "kiss kiss bang bang" came from an article about James Bond in Italy - it was how Bond was known there at the time, Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. There was also a song called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on the soundtrack to Thunderball because of this.
- When it was first released, it was never shown in more than 169 theatres in the US - a strong reason why the box office returns were so poor.
What's not to like?
At times, it does lose its way somewhat and particularly with its non-linear story-telling which confuses the picture even more. The film is told via flashback and sometimes interrupts its own tale for more back-stage buffoonery. The other thing I didn't particularly like was an occasionally overblown sense of self-satisfaction - don't get me wrong, it isn't on the same scale of smugness that afflicted the love-fest that was Ocean's Twelve but it tries hard to match it. Due to Downey Jr's performance (this was not that long after he was released from rehab), the whole film feels off-beat and quirky which won't suit everyone.
Given how quickly Black's directorial career has progressed (his next film was the massive smash hit Iron Man 3), it's quite surprising that nobody had given him a chance before now. He clearly knows his way around a film's set as well as he can produce killer screenplays and my only other criticism isn't one that I can lay the blame on him. The film simply wasn't given the push it needed - here is a film that offers viewers something very funny and a bit different but just wasn't given enough exposure in the States. Maybe there was a suspicion that the film's razor-sharp dialogue and sense of irony would have bypassed American audiences but regardless, the film deserved to do far better than it actually did.
Should I watch it?
Definitely - this is one film that will amuse and enthral in equal measures and demonstrates why Black is one of the most under-rated screenwriters of his generation. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a refreshing breath of cool fresh air on a hot summer's day, proving that Hollywood can still be edgy and alternative when it wants to. It also serves as a riposte to anyone who thought Val Kilmer was Hollywood poison as he is simply magnificent in what is possibly the performance of his career. Get your thinking cap on and concentrate because this is the sort of film that we don't see too often...
Great For: couples, anyone tired of the usual, Downey Jr fans, Kilmer's reputation
Not So Great For: short attention spans, the easily offended
What else should I watch?
Black's writing career has been more prolific than you might suspect - as well as the first two Lethal Weapon movies and the aforementioned Iron Man 3, Black was also responsible for the screenplays to equally under-rated action thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight, gritty Bruce Willis thriller The Last Boy Scout and Arnold Schwarzenegger action parody Last Action Hero. Who'd have thought that the spectacle-wearing radioman from Predator was so good at a typewriter?
It's hard to know what else can be compared to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - I'm certainly struggling to think of anything else quite like it. Lucky Number Slevin is also a complicated mystery featuring Josh Hartnett and Bruce Willis but ended up falling victim to its own complexities. Another suggestion would be In Bruges which has nothing to do with private detectives but features Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as hitmen trying to lay low in the sleepy Belgian town. Not exactly mainstream but a lot of offbeat fun all the same.
Robert Downey Jr
"Gay" Perry van Shrike
Mr Frying Pan, henchman
Pink Haired Girl
Release Date (UK)
11th November, 2005
Comedy, Crime, Mystery
© 2016 Benjamin Cox