It is a rare and triumphant occurrence when a film, especially one categorized into the genre of Action/Comedy, makes you say, “That is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year”. Or last year, for that matter, as I mouthed a phrase similar to that when I left an opulent theatre in Burbank , California after seeing the scarcely advertised, though seemingly big budget flick “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”. Personally, I only went to see this movie because I have a healthy affinity for Val Kilmer — see “Spartan”, “The Doors” and “Heat” — and a good review in the LA Weekly shed a revelatory light on the few mysterious twenty second trailers I caught playing at horrible ad times on TV. Luckily, my faith in Val paid off; author Philip K. Dick would correct me by saying I had had faith in “VALIS”. Don’t mind that dorky literary allusion.
“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is a sophisticated romp through the seediness of LA life, the world of gay private detectives and the consequences of finding oneself as a witness to a high profile murder of Byzantine intricacy and harrowing deceit. The story encompasses all of that and more as told through edgy, postmodern humor that extracts laughter from even the most macabre of situations, e.g. accidental urination on the corpse of a murder victim.
Shane Black wrote and directed “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, which stars Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer. If you aren’t immediately familiar with the name, Mr. Black is most notable for supplying screenplays for the “Lethal Weapon” series. But don’t expect to see a remake of that series, which was plagued by the law of diminishing returns. While “Kiss Kiss” does sport that franchise’s share of gun clapping, killings and cars going really fast in dangerous pursuit, it lacks the serious drama aspects the “Lethal Weapon” movies tried to convey at times. Here, Black shies away from any prolonged melodramatic sequences, providing immediate comic relief, mostly in the form of private eye Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and his self proclaimed immunity to political correctness because of his paradoxical super masculine homosexuality.
Robert Downey Jr. plays the role of Harry Lockhart, a blundering petty thief who literally falls into a potential Hollywood leading role while being chased by cops. Once transplanted to LA, Lockhart is introduced to Perry, whom he has to follow around for research on his supposed upcoming detective role. Downey and Kilmer are like a veteran comedic duo, exhibiting perfect timing, conveyance of dialogue, and have an onscreen rapport similar to old high school friends who know too much about each other not to be constantly snide.
On his way to eventual disappointment at the hands of movie execs with trifling tastes, most likely symbolizing Black’s own personal disaffection with Hollywood, Harry meets his once upon a time dream girl from his home town, Faith Harmony Lane (the plain but gorgeous Michelle Monaghan). Through the character of Faith, the lampooning of the LA lifestyle intended by Black really comes into focus. She is over thirty, dresses and acts like she is nineteen, sleeps around to get ahead but her only glimpse of success was a role as a beer wench in a commercial. The depiction of LA is so on point, from Harry’s jaded narratives and Harmony’s unabashed naivety that I would venture to label the film a cultural commentary in addition to being a damn smart and entertaining movie.
While Gay and Harry are staked out on a job one night, they witness a murder and inadvertently expose themselves to the criminals involved. From there the movie goes into double time with fast cut scenes, lots of profanities and homosexual innuendos, unexpected turns and absurdly unrealistic events. The unrealistic events in question, like main characters not dying after taking multiple bullets in vulnerable anatomical regions and dangling off of freeway overpasses, are presented not as synthetic heroic acts to be gasped and cried at. Rather, Black is reveling in the ersatz nature of such cinematic practices by poking fun at them inventively at the conclusion.
I cannot truthfully aver to having seen every film made and released in 2005, but by extrapolating from those I did see I can steadfastly wager that not many could contend with the splendor that is “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”. Yea, I will admit, it isn’t Oscar worthy, though it should be. No dead controversial figures are being portrayed and it confronts no racial or socio-political issues, but it never stops making you laugh and it never stops making you watch. “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is an artful piece of work that should not be overlooked.
Shane Black (director) / Brett Halliday (novel), Shane Black (screen story)
CAST: Robert Downey Jr. …. Harry Lockhart
Val Kilmer …. Gay Perry
Michelle Monaghan …. Harmony Faith Lane
Corbin Bernsen …. Harlan Dexter
Larry Miller …. Dabney Shaw
Rockmond Dunbar …. Mr. Fire
Shannyn Sossamon …. Pink Hair Girl