Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr.: Round I
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is written and directed by Shane Black and stars Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, and Corbin Bernsen. The film was Black's directorial debut and was the first of two films in which Black and Downey Jr. worked together, the other being Iron Man 3.
Something that I haven't given much thought of until now is my own take on Shane Black and how he goes about writing, directing, and acting and if I'm mostly on board with what he presents to us. From what movies that I have seen that involve Shane Black in any form of directing, writing, or acting, I have found myself normally raving about what I see on screen. He had a more minor acting role in Predator, but god damn I'd be lying if I didn't say that I could praise Predator until the sun goes down. And Black's most recent directing-writing effort The Nice Guys is one of the funniest movies I've seen in years. But, sadly, I am forced to hold myself back because Black is also the same guy who directed and wrote Iron Man 3, and, oh man did I dislike that film. So the best way to put it is that Shane Black is all or nothing for me, which leaves me very curious as to how the 4th installment in the Predator series is going to turn out.
Shane Black's directorial debut Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was much more on the all side of the all or nothing scale as opposed to the nothing side, being presented in a similar vein as The Nice Guys though not quite as entertaining and funny as that film. It's a buddy cop comedy that also features a mystery to be solved, and we get to hear Robert Downey Jr. provide sarcastic commentary throughout as he also acts as the narrator. And if you're wondering why I am reviewing this film now as opposed to, I don't know, the week or two before The Predator is released, it's because Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang constantly reminds us that it takes place right around Christmas, and that's usually more than enough to warrant a Christmas movie label.
The plot, especially the mystery part, adds on more information and more information to the point where it barely makes sense anymore, which I've heard was sort of intentional for the sake of the film's tongue-in-cheek presentation. What you should know is this: Robert Downey Jr. is Harry Lockhart, a petty criminal whose partner is shot and killed after the two attempt to flee when a burglary goes awry. Harry evades the police and stumbles upon an audition, where he gives an unintentionally impressive performance with an outburst that the producers mistake for highly effective method acting. Harry is then sent to Los Angeles to do a screen test for the role of a detective. At a party, Harry meets private investigator Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), hired to give Harry on-the-job experience for the detective role. Harry also comes across his childhood crush, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan) at the party, and lies to her about being a detective. The three eventually become involved in a scheme that involves Harmony's sister and a bunch of killers.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang eventually reaches a point where you have little to no idea as to what's going on anymore, but because the film is making no effort towards taking itself seriously, it's better to see it through until the end. I'd normally categorize a messy story as a low point, but Shane Black is doing so many different things and putting together so many elements from styles and genres that the story might as well be a moot point. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is not a straight-up action thriller that happens to pack a humorous punch, nor is it a comedy in which several people die. Black presents his film as if he's fully aware that his film makes little to no sense, evident in how he has narrator Robert Downey Jr. frequently pause the film (in which it temporarily plays on a film reel) and apologize to us about how poorly presented the scene we just saw was.
- Robert Downey Jr. is wildly entertaining as Harry, who frequently makes dumb decisions and is incapable of keeping his yap shut for more than two seconds. We can't be annoyed by him, however, because Harry is also our narrator and we need him to get the scoop on what's happening. Plus, Perry and Harmony berate Harry several times for how stupid he is, my favorite being a scene in which Perry explains to Harry the definition of the word idiot.
- Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang also does an excellent job of making light of normally serious situations, which is where a lot of the comedy stems from. Situations like the discovery of a dead body and the development of a romantic relationship are never progressed without Black making something happen to lighten the tone. Harry discovers a dead body in the shower of his apartment while going to the bathroom, resulting in him urinating on the body, humorously complicating the situation. Harry also brings Harmony back to his apartment during one scene and she temporarily passes out after throwing a fit. Harry puts her on his bed and watches a spider crawl into her bra. You can take an educated guess as to what happens next. No matter what is going on in the movie, there's a one liner or something else to reinforce the fact that any and all seriousness is going to get the rug pulled out from underneath it.
- I can't quite think up any legitimate thing in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang that diminishes it in any way, outside of the convoluted plot. The comedy does sort of tailor off a bit once the mystery fully sets in and takes over, and that's why the third act of the film isn't quite up to speed with the first two acts. The third act goes one of two ways: one, you're still on board with the story and want to see it through til the end, or two, you have no clue what's going on anymore and would now prefer the company of your phone or to strike up a conversation with the person that may be sitting next to you.
It's best to watch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang without getting too wrapped up in the plot, because it's better to see the film and appreciate it for being a satire of what it strives to be a satire of: the hardboiled literary genre and a neo-noir, buddy cop film. Nothing in the movie's entire 103 minute run time is meant to be taken seriously, so if you are willing to sacrifice understanding a complicated, mystery-based crime story for the sake of some good laughs, I have no doubt that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will deliver a little extra Christmas joy to your life.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: