Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of those films lovingly referred to as cult. Generally that term is thrown about as a tag to either something that has a small but devoted following of fans or something that’s too odd for the mainstream to accept. For example, Red Dwarf has always been called a cult show. This despite it’s huge worldwide following. It gets called cult because it is unique and not entirely for the mainstream. I wonder how many fans a film needs to be considered mainstream rather than cult. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang wouldn’t know because it genuinely does only have a small following of fans.
Here’s a film that was released at entirely the wrong time. it was released after Val Kilmer had done nothing after Batman Forever. It was released before Robert Downey Jr played himself in action blockbuster Iron Man.It’s one of those films actors do because for once they’re genuinely interested in the script and they have little else to do. It’s in those periods that you find stars either appearing in great works of art such as Sir Ben Kingsly in Sexy Beast, or they make utter tripe that I feel like I’m dying inside by just watching it, such as Sir Ben Kingsly in Bloodrayne. Thankfully Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (From now on known as KKBB in order to save my typing sanity) falls into the former category.
Written and directed by one time Hollywood golden boy Shane Black (He of Lethal Weapon, Monster Squad and… well The Last Action Hero fame) who at this point was in need of a hit. He hadn’t written a film since the flawed Long Kiss Goodnight and his last major film, the aforementioned Last Action Hero, was a critical and commercial flop. He’s never been the most prolific of writers which unfortunately in Hollywood won’t help keep your stock up. You either be prolific or you be good. Since Lethal Weapon 2 Shane Black hadn’t been either. His work always retained a cool, self aware charm, but it wasn’t enough to carry him. After a 7 year hiatus he came out with KKBB.
KKBB tells the story of a petty crook names Harry Lockhart (RDJ) who after getting shot in the arm during a bungled getaway stumbles into the most unlikely placed casting call session in the world and manages to method act his way through a dramatic scene. Now you’d think the film would be about this petty crook becoming a star, but it really isn’t. He get’s teamed with Kilmers Gay Perry, who claims to be up to his neck in pussy, to be taught how to be a detective for a film roll he is lined up for. Along the way a former love interest in the form of Michelle Monaghan’s Harmony drags Harry into a real life crime case involving the apparent suicide of her sister. What follows is a film that plays with convention, genres and general decency more so than any of Shane Black’s previous works. This is a writer unchained of the constraints of the studio system and without the pressure to produce a huge success. This is what the art of film making is about… I feel like I should say Mr Ratner at the end of that sentence. But I won’t.
Apparently filmed in one week, a fact I feel like disputing with Wikipedia, KKBB is a fast paced dark comedy that manages to also be many other things at the same time. there’s elements of Film Noir, genuine crime thrillers, Hollywood on Hollywood style dramas and even an element of Murder She Wrote. Seriously, an actor wanting to solve a crime is straight from daytime tv shows like Murder She Wrote. The humour is layered on thick and with many a moment of bad taste. A corpse is accidentally urinated on, Harry loses a finger first to a slammed door and later to a hungry pet and there’s even a fair bit of good old fashioned corpse carrying and dropping. Plot threads and clues are weaved and tied together with the sorts of leaps of logic that Adam Wests Batman would rely on but they never seem implausible. Harry’s knowing narration leads to many great lines and even at times encourages the audience to join in on the crime solving by asking if you’ve figured out what the characters have yet.
The influences on this film is clear but you can also see that it has influenced other works since. the self referrentialism and awareness can be seen in many recent films and tv shows and it’s constant attempts to play with your dramatic storytelling expectations is something that a lot of tv shows nearly rely on these days to make out they have plot twists. The film is littered with movie industry in jokes (The best boy is someones nephew you know) and it revels in showing the audience how storytelling is carried out in films. For example when Harry meets Harmony in LA he doesn’t recognise her at first, she does, and when it clicks we’re given a chance to see where the clue was to their relationship earlier in the film. the opening scene shows a young child playing magician and he’s planning to saw a girl in half, she starts screaming, which she’s faking, and when saved declares she wants to be an actress. Now you likely will get that the actress is Harmony but if you were looking closely the magician was called Harold The Great. Don’t worry if you missed it though because harry makes sure you know. You’re also briefly introduced to Harmony’s abusive father which is a very important element later. It shows you as an audience member how well you pay attention to visual storytelling because honestly, not many films even bother with subtle pieces of story information like that.
Performances are pretty strong throughout Robert Downey Jr is his usual fast talking quirky self, Val Kilmer is the toughest gay man to ever carry a tiny gun and Michelle Monaghan is pretty believable as a failed actress. Was that a burn? I didn’t mean it to be but it kinda came across as one. overall the film is witty, dark and very well made. Shane Black should be given a few more chances to produce similarly creative movies. he currently has nothing on his plate according to imdb which is a shame. I’m sure though he’ll be back with something new in a number of years when his creative juices have had the chance to ferment long enough.
Coming soon to The Film Dump is apparently the makings of a Robert Downey Jr week as I shall be reviewing Sherlock Holmes. I’m not a fan of Guy Richie’s style so this should be interesting.