Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)


(director/writer: Shane Black; screenwriter: based in part on a novel by Brett Halliday; cinematographer: Michael Barrett; editor: Jim Page; music: John Ottman; cast: Robert Downey Jr. (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony Lane), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw), Angela Lindvall (Flicka); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Joel Silver; Warner Brothers Home Videos; 2005)

“It’s a movie that becomes so taken with itself, that it seems to be doing the laughing instead of the viewer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pauline Kael used the title “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” for one of her film review books, as she considered that saying as the quickest way to tell if a movie has some kind of charm. Conceived as a raucous screwball comedy takeoff on pulpish film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s, the screenwriter for the last twenty years Shane Black (Lethal Weapon/Last Action Hero) makes this film his directing debut. It’s a spoof on the Los Angeles-based hard-boiled detective story, and incorporates into its plot line such films as Chinatown and Farewell My Lovely. The chapter titles are lifted from the titles of Raymond Chandler novels and short stories. It’s a smartass film that has some entertainment value for its cleverness, in-jokes, film buff value, inventiveness and style, and might appeal to the funny bone of those who get off on such silly humor. But for me, it soon becomes wearisome, its cuteness grating and its cleverness smug. By the end I couldn’t wait for its last wink at the audience, as the talented actors couldn’t save it from wallowing in its own superficiality and emptiness. It’s a movie that becomes so taken with itself, that it seems to be doing the laughing instead of the viewer.

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, the narrator and small-time booster thief from New York City who gets out of a botched electronics’ store robbery jam by running away from the cops into an audition and is mistaken for an actor and winds up in Los Angeles for a possible acting gig as a private detective on a pulp movie. The studio teams Harry with Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), nicknamed “Gay” because of his sexual orientation, a veteran tough-guy private eye, in order to prep him for the part. But when it’s learned the studio was just using Harry against superstar Colin Farrell to knock down his price, Gay takes him on as a partner and verbal sparring foil. Harry will hook up again with Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), a gal he had a crush on back in his childhood days in Indiana but who screwed everyone in the school but him. They share a love for the old-fashioned crime fiction novels featuring the Los Angeles detective Jonny Gossamer — which was the reason Harmony split from her abusive home at 16 to try and become an actress in Hollywood. While on the case the trio will become linked to the same crime scenario, as two unrelated broads are murdered and the plot becomes highly complex and made even more confusing by Harry’s mocking voice-over and goof on the film noir conventions the filmmaker pays homage to.

The twisty doings seemed overbaked, and the mix of violence and humor seemed crude. When all is said and done the film had no emotional appeal to draw one in and its glib humor was just not funny. If you want to see a film that got the film noir comedy spoof right, try The Big Lebowski.