The Flickering Myth writing team count down to Christmas by discussing their favourite festive movies; next up is Matt Smith with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…
Hi, you there, the one reading the review. Just a quick note, not that you need it, you’re probably a smart, independent person; probably have a job, a car. Maybe some nice hair, but it’s okay if you don’t you can just… wear a hat. Anyway, just a small warning, that this review will probably get a bit self-referential. But you probably figured that out already what with all the… self-referencing.
Anyway, let me take you back to 2005, when Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was released. It was Shane Black’s first gig in a while, which is important as he is, in my opinion, the most entertaining writer around, which I’ll get to, but then there’s also Robert Downey Jr. coming back from his problems which we’ll focus on first, or you can skip ahead and read about the actual movie, what do I care, my point is: I don’t see anyone else writing this review, so just pipe down or type something in the comment section for my future reading pleasure.
So it might be a coincidence that in this movie a washed up actor from a TV show gets found drunk in someone else’s house, but considering who the protagonist is it seems the movie’s self-referencing went as far as to include that and a wonder bat. Anyway, this is the movie that probably cemented the idea that Robert Downey Jr. had made it back, if not into the big times of Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, then at least back as one of the premier comedy actors of his time. His casting as Harry Lockhart is perfect, playing into Downey’s strengths of quickly delivered, slightly off-kilter dialogue and the fool trying to be more than he actually is (see Iron Man and Tropic Thunder again).
Val Kilmer enters. With a reputation as a hard person to work with somehow gotten hold of (others read it as a high amount of dedication to his work) Kilmer may be perfect for the role of Perry van Shrike. An actual consulting private eye, the perfect version of what Harry Lockhart is pretending to be, who seems constantly annoyed that everyone isn’t as fast or smart as he is. Kilmer’s and Downey’s pairing is, to use that word again, perfect. I promise I won’t use that word again, unless I have an opportunity to do so that’s… good.
The entire cast is well placed, with Michelle Monaghan playing Harmony Lane as the femme fatale who Harry falls in love with at the beginning of the movie (and, we quickly learn, was in love with her before the movie even began). Corbin Benson rounds off the principal cast as Harlan Dexter, the man behind the case so complicated that even with an explanation it’s a little tough getting your head round it.
The almost pedantically complicated nature of the movie, as well as the very knowing way the movie talks about itself and others, might be off putting to some. The movie is at times having fun with itself (and I mean that in every sense of the word), showing off to the delight of some. For those who enjoy Shane Black’s style of play, and it is purely play, you will revel in this case.
Shane Black. Nuts. I made this big deal about how this was his first movie in a while then I just, like, completely forgot, like when I’m telling a joke and I’m like ‘Oh yeah, by the way, this movie also has a director and this guy who wrote the thing, no wonder I can’t tell a story’. Anyway, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is his first gig and in every way it’s probably the best match you could find, so it’s no wonder it’s all Black’s game. Among the best when it comes to writing dialogue, he does fit the mould of those creatives who are aware they’re good, but this is a script where he nails it.
Set at Christmas time, but in LA so of course it’s sunny, the movie really gets under the skin of this idea of the dark, greasy Los Angeles where everyone is out for themselves. It’s a cynical juxtaposition the script sets up that even during the season of giving, everyone only wants to take. But it’s through sitting back and watching it that we as an audience can revel and root for the guy who’s slightly better than the others.
Noir is a definite genre. While that genre is difficult to define, it is definitely a genre, with conventions (some would say clichés) that suit Black. Playful, intelligent use of language, voiceover as narration and off the cuff gags you can throw away like a bad habit, whatever that means. Even his character names fit the genre, with your Mr Fire’s and your Mr. Frying Pan’s. Once again, if you’re a fan of this kind of story, where playing around with and enjoying the conventions of older movies is the name of the game, you’ll love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Characters are a commentary themselves on noir from old. Harry Lockhart, while the protagonist, is not the first character you’d imagine when bringing up film noir. Perry is the one who is actually a private detective and, due to us seeing him through Harry’s eyes, we only see him in simplistic terms dressed up as a complex character. He is, in a way, the perfect example of a stock character.
And that’s why the film works so well. If it was just a bunch of amusing lines tied together with the flimsiest of plots, it’d be boring within five minutes. But this is a movie that knows it’s in a genre and knows its genre. And it’s not one of those movies that requires its audience to be aware of everything that came before.
In the end, whether you want to look too far into it and solve the mystery of all that came before and how this came to be or you just want to enjoy it, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a laugh a minute, mover and shaker of the highest order. Performances are pitch perfect, the writing is sharp as a knife and the movie is so bloody smart it probably realises why it’s not for everyone. But the fantastic thing is, is that it doesn’t care and just goes ahead and does its own thing anyway.
Matt Smith – follow me on Twitter.