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Posts Tagged ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’

More fun and games courtesy of the DVD rental people – actually, the timing of this isn’t quite as suspect as it possibly looks, partly because a) someone was bound to get sent Shane Black’s 2005 Robert Downey Jr-led movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the same weekend that Shane Black’s 2013 Robert Downey Jr-led movie went on release and  b) it wasn’t actually me that it got sent to this weekend anyway, they originally sent it a fortnight ago, but the disc was chipped, and so… do you really want or need to hear this stuff? I think no. I think no with a great deal of confidence.

Hmmm. Black, whom you will of course know as the slightly dorky radio operator guy who gets eviscerated in the second act of the original Predator, mainly has a career writing films in which highly-paid movie stars dangle from wires while stuff explodes in the background: the first Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Action Hero, and so on. It’s easy to sneer at this kind of movie, but anyone looking a little closer – at Black’s scripts, at least – should easily discern that there is a distinct level of intelligence and wit at work here that makes all the pyrotechnics and to-a-degree-formulaic structuring much more palatable.

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang feels like a film in which Black feels much less constrained by mainstream tropes: not quite a vanity project, but certainly something in a different key. It’s also notable for being a bit of a career milestone for Robert Downey Jr: all-conquering, much-feted superstar presence he may be (and his recent movies have made Marvel Studios in particular a ton of money), but it’s not that long ago that he couldn’t get arrested in Hollyw… well, hang on, famously he could, but that was about all. Landing parts in episodes of Ally McBeal and Elton John videos was about as far as he could be trusted, or so the received wisdom had it.  This was arguably his first real leading role in a long time.

Anyway, Downey Jr plays Harry Lockhart, a small-time crook and all-purpose idiot who has lucked into an audition for a major Hollywood movie through an outrageous twist of fate. As part of the process of being groomed by the movie studio, he is being given ‘private detective lessons’ by established LA investigator Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer, in the closest thing to an acting performance he’s ever been responsible for), also known as Gay Perry because… well, it’s sort of self-explanatory now I consider it.

As well as all of this, Harry also bumps into an old flame (Michelle Monaghan) who buys into his claims of being a PI whole-heartedly, and when her sister is found dead in mysterious circumstances retains him to investigate. This would be less of a problem for Harry and Gay Perry were it not for the fact that a routine surveillance job has led to them witnessing a murder, for which the real killers are enthusiastically attempting to frame them…

The LA setting and convoluted plot instantly recall the hard-boiled pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler, something the film is quite open about: its various acts are subtitled with the names of Chandler novels. The plot is furiously complex and by the mid-section of the film I really had to dig in in order to keep track of who was doing what to whom and why, but in the end it all resolves itself relatively neatly. However, this is not just an exercise in accomplished pastiche – the film works as well as it does by alternating between being a classic LA detective thriller and a tongue-in-cheek parody of the traditions of the genre.

This is a tough trick to pull off, but Black gets away with it with style. For a film to start poking fun at its own shortcomings is usually fairly risky – when Seven Psychopaths, a film not a million miles away from this one in some ways, started making self-conscious jokes about how underwritten its female roles were, the response of many sensible reviewers was to say ‘good gag, but it doesn’t excuse how underwritten the female roles are’. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang manages it, probably because it’s poking fun at its own genre as a whole – and underpinning the gags and commentary is a clever mystery, shot through with moments of real thought and emotion.

It’s still a very funny film, full of bitchy jokes about other movies and actors. In the middle of it is a very sure-footed comic performance from Downey Jr as possibly the most incompetent protagonist in thriller history. He is frequently beaten up and has his testicles electrified; small but vital body parts get severed and eaten by toy dogs; he accidentally urinates on a corpse even in the process of discovering it. Not just that, but he’s equally dire at narrating the movie in which he appears, forgetting to include key scenes and forgetting to narrate vital information (possibly a tip of the hat to The Big Lebowski, another off-the-wall Chandler pastiche). Of course, he comes good and redeems himself in the end, but even the obligatory final shootout is so wry and over-the-top it’s hard to take it completely seriously.

But then the same applies to most of the movie. I enjoyed this a lot, and it has pretty much the complete package as movies go – good performances from the principles, an involving story, a terrific bunch of jokes, and well-executed mise en scene from a confident director. I’m somewhat surprised this film isn’t better known and liked than it is: it’s arguably in the same league as Lebowski and Psychopaths, two cult favourites. Now what, I wonder, would a reteaming of Downey Jr and Black, working with a much bigger budget, look like…?

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