Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a low-budget screwball LA noir. To really get the "in" jokes, you have to know Los Angeles, ’40s pulp novels, and ’80s action movies. Raise your hand if you’re still in the room.
If you stick around, you’ll hear great lines like this: "I don’t understand LA girls. It’s like somebody grabbed America by the East coast, shook it, and all the normal girls managed to hang on". That’s the cynical narration of Harry Lockart, Robert Downey Jr.. Since he’s telling the story, he can do cute things like freeze the film to emphasize a point, or bring the dead back onstage. Sometimes he even tries to help us solve the mystery.
Harry is a thief. When a burglary goes bad and his partner is shot, Harry, looking for any port in a storm, bursts into a casting session for a cop show. "You got your partner killed, didn’t you," the casting agent accuses him. Harry, misunderstanding the situation, tearfully confesses. The producer, played by Larry Miller, says, " That’s what I’m talking about. That’s method. That’s Brando."
Harry is whisked from New York to LA. For research, he rides along with a private eye everyone calls "Gay Perry" (Val Kilmer). Gay Perry is investigating the case of Veronica Dexter, who was slutty, then got born again, then got dead. Before finding her final resting place on a curb, her body will be strangled, shot, drowned, thrown out a window, and urinated on. Well, it’s funnier than it sounds.
The third leg of the Harry/Gay Perry triangle is Harmony Faith Lane, Michelle Monaghan. She escaped an incestuous home to be a movie star; now she’s 34 and already flotsam washed up on Venice Beach (how she can afford a seaside apartment when she’s only done one commercial is an unsolved mystery). When she and Harry meet at a party, he comes to realize that this is the Harmony Lane, the same unattainable dream girl who cried on Harry’s shoulder all the way through high school and slept with everyone but him. Maybe Harry is too gallant. Or maybe his sexuality is more ambiguous than he knows, and Gay Perry will be more than a thorn pricking his side.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the directorial debut of screenwriter Shane Black, the enfant terrible of Hollywood’s gold rush ’80s. Black was twenty-two when he sold his spec script, Lethal Weapon , to Warner’s, for a quarter of a million dollars. But after three prominent flops based on his work, Black disappeared for a decade. The movie is also a comeback for Downey Jr., his first starring role since his battles with drug addiction made him too big a risk for the studios; and for Val Kilmer, who has been in nothing but terrible movies for ten years, with the exception of the brilliant Spartan . Finally, someone remembered Kilmer is funny.
The down-and-dirty photography by Michael Barrett was fiddled with in post-production, adding colored light. With a few million more, he and Black could have had another screenwriter-cum-director’s Hollywood love letter, Tequila Sunrise . But the dark undercurrents add some heft, the unconventional maybe-love-triangle is original, and though the movie’s a botch, it’s an interesting one.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is playing at Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.