Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Your Mouth is a Recommended Place to Put a Sock
In the early to mid-2000s, Robert Downey Jr wasn’t one of the highest-paid actors in the world. He was busy attempting to rebuild his career after five years of constant struggles with various drugs, being in and out of rehab, and even spending at least a year and a half incarcerated. With all of the films Downey did in that period, including Gothika, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac, and Charlie Bartlett, perhaps none are as memorable as Shane Black’s directorial debut and neo-noir black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Harry Lockhart (Downey) is a thief who finds himself in a peculiar situation. After almost being apprehended by the police while breaking into a toy store, Harry stumbles into an audition and impresses everyone when his reading cuts a little too deep and is strangely accurate to Harry’s current situation. Now seen as some sort of acting prodigy, Harry finds himself in Los Angeles awaiting his screen test. He’s introduced to Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a gay detective who’s hired to bestow his detective wisdom on Harry for his new on-screen role.
But before character development can truly begin, Harry is re-introduced to Harmony (Michelle Monaghan); a childhood friend and the girl-next-door-type who Harry considers to be the one that got away. However, Harry’s newfound luck is short-lived. While tagging along with Perry during one of his cases, the two of them witness two men in ski masks drive a car off a cliff and into a lake. They discover a woman with a broken neck in the trunk and the realization dawns on them that this is bigger than either of them could have ever imagined. With multiple cases suddenly being connected to one another and clues coming together to form bigger pieces of the puzzle, maybe Harry, Perry, and Harmony meeting each other is fate and not just a coincidence.
While Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a noir film on the surface, it also has that buddy cop dynamic that Shane Black perfected with the likes of the Lethal Weapon films and The Nice Guys. The film has elements of mystery, comedy, action, and thriller genres for an overall experience that is entertaining on a variety of levels. Harry guides you as the narrator throughout the majority of the film and there are some intriguing storytelling techniques utilized to help get Harry’s perspective across. There’s a sequence in which Harry realizes he’s forgotten to tell the audience an important piece of information and the film reel acts like it’s about to run off track before it pauses to show what looks like the film paused between two frames of a film reel. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a few elements like this that capitalize on Harry’s quirks while he narrates that gives the film and the story a refreshing ambience.
This is Robert Downey Jr’s favorite film of his entire filmography and it’s difficult to argue with that. At a time when Downey was trying to rebound, stay sober, and prove that he was still a talented actor, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang benefits from all of his strengths. As Harry, Downey portrays nearly every emotion imaginable and this performance reminds you why he has always been held in such high regard. Unlike Iron Man 3 which seems to depreciate in repeat viewings, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang holds up extremely well for a film that is more than ten years old, and should be considered as one of Shane Black’s strongest films in general and to date.
The one downside was the way the film was released theatrically. The film didn’t expand to more theaters after its opening weekend and under-performed at the box office, but did well overseas and was a big hit once it was released on DVD. The Gay Perry character is considered to be the first openly gay character to headline a major motion picture in Hollywood and Val Kilmer is in top form in the role. The chemistry he has with Robert Downey Jr is overwhelmingly entertaining while Perry’s agitation with Harry’s incompetence as a detective is hilariously brought to light by Kilmer’s memorable performance.
John Ottman’s score is the unseen cast member of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that helps cement the noir vibe the film is aiming for. The jazz-infused compositions invoke a sense of mystery and intrigue in the viewer that sets the tone of the film perfectly. For proof of this, look no further than the film’s opening credits which simultaneously feel like an homage to other noir films while also offering something completely new.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn’t as overlooked as it used to be, but it still doesn’t seem to have the reputation it deserves. The film is entertaining on so many levels and the performances from the cast are exceptional. The music is superb and the story constantly captivates; Shane Black couldn’t have dreamed of a better directorial debut.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu for $2.99 and iTunes for $3.99. The film is also free on Amazon Prime if you have Cinemax with Prime Video Channels. It is currently available on DVD for $8.49, Blu-ray for $16.99, and Multi-Format Blu-ray for $14.42 on Amazon. On eBay, the DVD is currently running $4.66 pre-owned and $4.50 brand new with free shipping and a brand new Blu-ray is $15.98 with free shipping.
© 2018 Chris Sawin
Amina Ashfaq from ISLAMABAD on June 24, 2018: