Under the Radar: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
This is the beginning of a new regular feature here at the Captivate movie blog. Every now and then I’ll spotlight a smaller movie that you may have missed. These aren’t necessarily tiny little obscure movies (they may be would-be blockbusters that failed undeservedly), but rather great movies that just, for whatever reason, a lot of people seem to have either not seen or even heard of. They’re movies that I feel are worthy of attention. And if you’ve seen them already, well, you have excellent taste. Consider this an excuse to watch them again.
First up is a movie I love so much I could punch someone, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It’s the directorial debut from screenwriter Shane Black, who penned the original Lethal Weapon and subsequently became one of the few “famous” screenwriters in Hollywood history, though in his case it was mostly because of the huge amounts of money he was paid for his work. He earned a princely sum to pen the notorious Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb The Last Action Hero, which he followed in 1996 with another flop, the Geena Davis/Samuel L. Jackson spy actioner The Long Kiss Goodnight, and then took a break from Hollywood until Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang came out in 2005. Black also penned another of my all-time favourite movies, the underappreciated Bruce Willis/Damon Wayans detective flick The Last Boy Scout (for my money there’s no other movie so chock-full of wonderful lines; I’ll find an excuse to write about it at length one day), but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang marks the first time Black directs the action as well, and the result is something very special indeed.
Most of Black’s movies cover similar thematic territory; they follow bickering “odd couple” duos exchanging witty banter, and they usually have twisty, mystery-laden plots. This isn’t to say his movies are same-y, but rather that he has a formula he sticks to, and it works pretty magnificently. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is about Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a petty thief from New York, who, on the run from the cops, ducks into an open casting call, wows the producers, and is whisked to L.A., ostensibly as an up-and-coming, unknown actor. He’s paired with “Gay” Perry van Shrike, a (gay) private detective, (Val Kilmer, doing James Bond cool) and film consultant so he can learn the ropes of real-life detective work.
Harry and Perry (seriously, how much balls does it take for a writer to name his two lead characters “Harry” and “Perry”? Shane Black-sized balls, apparently) stumble across a dead girl, and soon find themselves entangled in a web of murder and intrigue, which also happens to involve Harry’s long-lost high school crush (Michelle Monaghan), a wannabe actress whom he convinces that he’s an actual detective (rather than a crook pretending to be an actor learning how to pretend to be a detective). It’s heady stuff, and if it sounds a little complicated, it is; Black is clearly a fan of classic detective movies and novels, and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is his own modern take on the genre, with the Hollywood angle allowing him to sneak in more than a few wonderfully bitter jokes at the movie industry’s expense. But it never gets so confusing that a viewer paying attention can’t follow along (Downey’s narration, among the funniest I’ve ever heard in a movie, also helps a lot).
The main thing to know about Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is that it’s funny. Really funny. Like, funnier than most straight-up comedies. Black is a genius with snappy dialogue, and with actors as awesome as Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer as the focus of just about every scene, it’s movie alchemy for pure goddamn magic. Like the best of Black’s work, it manages to both have fun with a genre – in this case, detective movies – while also being one of the best detective movies I’ve seen in years. It’s smart, funny as hell, and rewards multiple viewings. I’ve seen it quite a few times (I’ve watched it three times in the last two days to refresh my memory, once with the commentary with Black, Downey and Kilmer, which is also great), and it’s filled with lines that make me laugh every time, as well as lines I initially missed because I was laughing too hard to catch them previous times.
If it’s a little dry at your local video store and you’re looking for something fun to watch, try Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It’s sheer brilliance, and in a perfect world, new Harry Lockhart/Gay Perry flicks would come out every couple of years, like James Bond movies. Sadly, we’re stuck with this woefully imperfect one in which there’s only one. Cherish it with me.
Labels: Shane Black, Under the radar