Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
2005, R, 103 min. Directed by Shane Black. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Dash Mihok, Larry Miller, Angela Lindvall.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 11, 2005
Blammo! The directorial debut of screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight) is a suckerpunch-and-a-half, a trippy tribute to L.A. noir that blazes through its running time, a genre-busting blitzkrieg attack on Hollywood pretentiousness that’s just as full of it as the pulp paperbacks and their myriad filmic offshoots that it lampoons. It’s also a doozy of a comedy, matching the dark wit of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels to the stylized theatrics of Matt Helm-era Dean Martin. It’s heavy on the narration, but as the tale of second-rate, NYC sneak thief Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.) and his wild Hollywood relocation, how could it not be? Black’s love of self-reflexive, genre-skewering conventions drenches the film in blood reds and Sunset Strip purples and drops a wink and a grin while doing it, over and over, making Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang the sort of in-jokey affair film geeks lust after but so rarely receive. It’s a vibrant, kicky, and thoroughly entertaining slice of the bad life that never quite takes itself seriously enough to be considered a classic (there are echoes of Tarantino here, but who is echoing whom is never quite as obvious as you’d like it to be), but nonetheless deserves to be seen by both the film noir cognoscenti and the midnight marquee crowd. Downey’s sad-sack Lockhart earns his way to the bottom of the Hollywood feeding trough after mistakenly busting in a casting call while being pursued by the police. Overnight, he finds himself in the Hollywood hills, where he meets up with uncloseted private dick Gay Perry (Kilmer, borrowing Craig Kilborn’s perma-fix smirk and wearing it well), assigned to give him a few lessons in the lifestyles of the rich and fatuous. At an exclusive, shady Beverly Hills shindig, Harry inadvertently runs into his high school sweetheart, the mythic One That Got Away, Monaghan’s sultry, devil-may-care Harmony. A thunderhead hangs over their history, and Harry, desperate to grab his one last chance, makes a play for true love and ends up knee-deep in bodies and parts thereof. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, loosely adapted from the stories of Mike Shayne Mysteries creator Brett Halliday, intentionally plays like a trashy novel, with chaptered subheads interrupting the film’s flow from time to time, and Downey’s woozy narration often stopping to backtrack the film and explain key (and not so key) plot points, lest the audience miss them. Downey is a fantastic smear of fatalistic pettiness; the actor’s real-world drug troubles are reappropriated for the storyline and played for laughs, which is itself a triumph of outright fearlessness on the actor’s part. It’s a bravura performance, one that Kilmer has to run to keep up with. His dashing, rude Gay Perry is a pun-intended tool for the Man and the butt of copious jokes; again, it’s a ballsy play, one that Mickey Spillane would doubtless scratch his flattop over. And Monaghan? She’s the blazing, sultry eye of everybody’s L.A. storm, a perfect tease, all sexy come-ons and damaged goods, the slippery distillation of busted dreams and bad, black backgrounds. Like Black’s witty ode to Los Angelean excess, she looks great mid-shot, but up close you can see the skull behind the flesh. Black makes the hollow socket wink at you, and you find yourself winking back, and grinning, too. (See interview with Shane Black at austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2005-11-11/screens_feature.html.)