Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
2005Director: Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
hen he sold the script for Lethal Weapon at the tender age of twenty-two, Shane Black instantly established himself as the King of buddy-action flicks. By the ripe old age of twenty-eight, he was collecting fat checks to spoof the genre he had helped revolutionize. Black lent his talents to a rewrite of The Last Action Hero, and anyone who suffered through that abomination can see some parallels to Black’s directorial debut.
Both The Last Action Hero and Black’s new offering attempt to spoof a genre while maintaining its most effective aspects, and mercifully, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is more successful in that aim than its predecessor. “Better than The Last Action Hero,” isn’t exactly high praise, however, and when considered on its own merits Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a decidedly mediocre film. A few good rounds of give-and-take between the film’s stars are wasted by irritating narration and an equally irritating plot.
Harold Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.: Drug Rehab, Drug Rehab Part II, Drug Rehab: The Revenge) introduces himself as the humble narrator of our story and wastes no time delivering a few self-aware cracks at how silly narration is. Initially, Harry is charming (thanks to Downey Jr.) and the narrator jokes are mildly amusing. Eventually, Harry outstays his welcome in the voice-over department, rendering the tee-hee’s of the first few jokes a distant memory for one annoyed audience member. Self-Awareness as a gimmick in spoofs is inevitable and warranted, but Black’s over-use stretches the funny way too thin.
After announcing that this will be no ordinary noir flick through his unconventional narration, Harry launches himself into the convoluted plot by defending the honor of a woman who caught his eye at a Hollywood soiree. A petty criminal from New York, Harry doesn’t usually find himself at such classy occasions. But through some amazing circumstances (related through an amusing back story) he manages to convince some producer types that he’s a talented actor. Hence, Harry scores a ticket to LA and an invitation to a swanky bash where he spies his damsel in distress. Not skilled in the pugilistic arts, Harry manages to hit the other guy’s hand pretty hard with his face for a time before scraping himself off his host’s lawn in time to watch his girl leave with his adversary.
Luckily for Harry, he runs into the consultant on the detective film for which he’s currently testing. “Gay” Perry (Val Kilmer: Real Genius, Batman Whatever) is a private detective to the stars, and also happens to be (surprise!) gay. Thankfully for the audience, good Val Kilmer showed up to shoot this movie rather than his evil twin brother, and Val plays Gay Perry like a more gay and more dangerous Chris Knight from Real Genius. When Kilmer decides to get interested in a role he can be quite funny and charming.
Perry and Harry team up for what seems to be an everyday stakeout, until unforeseen circumstances thrust the pair into an evermore tangled web of deceit and mystery. The extent to which that web gets tangled is one of the weak points of the film. Yes, if you’re spoofing noir one of the most obvious bits of wackiness surrounding the genre is its penchant for convoluted stories. However, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s plot is just normal enough to be an actual attempt at a suspense film. The audience can’t tell if Black is simply spoofing noir, in which case he needed to go further over the top, or attempting to craft a good noir plot while employing a humorous sensibility, in which case he needed a better story. Either way, the plot itself is neither funny nor interesting.
The news isn’t all bad though, the dialogue hits with an acceptable percentage of its unending quips and the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Kilmer is pretty strong. Laughs and the cast’s charm save Kiss Kiss Bang Bang from being a total disaster. Unfortunately, finding a balance between spoof and suspense appears to be an extraordinarily difficult task for a director and Black just wasn’t up to the challenge his first time around. With a steadier hand at the helm Kiss Kiss Bang Bang may have worked fantastically. Sadly, the audience is left wondering what could have been.