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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

October 15, 2014

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Director: Shane Black
Actors: Robert Downey Jr, Michelle Monaghan, Val Kilmer

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Synopsis: Petty New York thief, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr), is catapulted into the glamorous world of nocturnal LA when he inadvertently gatecrashes an audition in downtown Manhattan and proceeds to convince the casting agents of his worth. When in LA, he accompanies Private Detective-cum-Studio Consultant, Perry (Val Kilmer), for research for a part, and also bumps into childhood sweetheart, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan). These two strands converge when Harry and Perry come across a dead body….

Review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a quite brilliant, funny and not altogether unnuanced, riff/pastiche/send-up (call it what you will) of fatalistic, old-school LA noir. I’ll come on to the humour in a moment because comedy is probably the strongest facet to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘s artillery, but the film does an uncanny job of honouring those noir conventions too. There’s the intentionally convoluted, confusing plot, plenty of play on ‘starlets’ and mixed identities, and the fuzzy line between the glamorous and salubrious aspects of Hollywood culture is mined acutely.

It’s also a very funny commentary on LA. It captures the party/nightlife scene wickedly – from the desperate, toxic ambience of competitiveness and careerism, to the dating/mating game being utterly mercenary. Director Shane Black has not only done his homework in terms of appropriating the constituent elements of noir, but in also making it a vibrantly directed piece of zany action cinema too. There are moments of amusing, propulsive editing where Harry continually gets denied his moment of ‘consumation’ with childhood idol, Harmony – first, when he seems to have made a ‘charm’ breakthrough with her on their first night out (only for the action to fast-forward to a scenario where Harry has got annihilated and slept with Harmony’s obnoxious best friend instead), and then later in the piece, Harmony gets into bed with Harry and the ‘deed’ seems finally set to be done, before Harmony is catapulted out of Harry’s apartment because she reveals she slept with his best friend when they were younger.

The postmodern, ironic bent of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang lends it much of its anarchic energy too. Harry’s wry noir commentary is a great piss-take of famous crime voiceovers of yonder, and there’s a fair amount of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ with Harry speaking direct to camera and even getting involved in some of the story’s editing. With actors as cool and smooth as Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer, Black probably didn’t need to overdemonstrate the ‘wit’ of the piece as much as he does, and the closing gambit of Downey Jr and Kilmer’s characters closing the film as a ‘film within their film’ almost seems a tad tame, and I felt it could have been even more radical if Downey Jr and Kilmer had introduced that conceit as their actual, real-life, actorly selves – adding an extra layer of irreverence to this most scabrous of films. (October 2014)

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