Thursday, December 15, 2011

Movie – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a movie that had almost no marketing done for it in the U.S.  Consequently, it earned almost nothing at the domestic box office.  For people only concerned about dollars this would make the movie a flop not worth watching.  For anybody who actually cares if they will be entertained by a movie, this is one that is definitely worth watching.  It revived Robert Downey, Jr.’s career and launched Michelle Monaghan’s.  It is number 3 on my list of the best non-traditional Christmas movies.

Along with Downey, Jr. and Monaghan, the other main cast member is Val Kilmer.  I hadn’t seen him in a good movie for a while prior to this and I thought that he would have a career revival along with Downey, Jr., but I was wrong.

This movie takes place in Los Angeles right before Christmas.  We meet Downey, Jr.’s character of Harry Lockhart at a typical Hollywood Christmas party.  In a voiceover he introduces himself and says he will be our narrator in the same tone of voice as someone saying they will be our waiter.  We find out that Lockhart is in town for an audition to play a private detective in a movie.  He’s not really an actor; he’s a thief who ended up crashing a casting call while trying to get away from the police.

He has a number of observations for us on Hollywood culture from an outsider’s perspective.  He introduces us to Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), an aspiring actress.  She is discussing how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is racist.  Lockhart notices her passed out later with a creepy guy starting to do something creepy.  He challenges the guy, in all the best detective-novel-tough-guy dialogue…and gets the shit beat out of him.

He gets saved by “Gay Perry” (Val Kilmer), a real detective and a consultant to the Hollywood studio that Lockhart will be screen testing with.  He is supposed to show Lockhart the ropes, to get a better idea of how to play a detective.  Kilmer plays Gay Perry a lot like he did his character in Real Genius (1985) – intelligent, fast talking, witty, and on to the next thing while your brain is still registering the last thing he said.  And yes, his character is actually gay.  It generates some funny exchanges between him and Lockhart.  Kilmer’s character is the first openly gay man that I can think of that is a lead or co-lead of an action movie.

Despite the fact that Gay Perry tells Lockhart not to be stupid, that real life detectives don’t end up with cases like you see in movies, the two of them proceed to get tangled up in just such a case.  This is just one of the examples in the movie where they get meta.  While Lockhart is narrating the movie, he stops a couple of times to go back to something he should have told us, and we actually see the movie freeze between frames like the projector itself has stopped.  Characters also break the fourth wall at the end of the movie – in what is a very funny scene.

While I would not call this an out and out comedy, there are a number of times that I laughed out loud at things that happened.  One time I was still chuckling a couple of minutes after something happened.  (For those who have seen the film, it involves being bad at math.)  The movie is actually a combination of mystery, action, and comedy.  It was written and directed by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero).

I haven’t discussed Monaghan’s performance yet.  While I technically would have seen her in small roles in movies prior to this, I did not recognize her.  This was the movie that put her on the map.  From this she got the female leads in Mission Impossible III (2006) and Gone Baby Gone (2007).  Her character is wrapped up in the mystery that Lockhart and Gay Perry are investigating.  I don’t want to say more since it will spoil a few reveals about how she is connected to the both of them.  Shane Black had nothing but good things to say about her on the DVD commentary, too.  He said she was a complete professional when it came to her nude scene, unlike a lot of actresses who would take the role knowing it called for nudity, then stall or whine or call their agents when it came time to film them.

I also mentioned that it revived Robert Downey, Jr.’s career.  Some would point to Iron Man as having done that.  I would certainly agree that Iron Man put him back at the top of Hollywood again, but it was this movie that got him a key supporting role in Zodiac (2007), which got him the lead role in Iron Man (2008).

I didn’t tell you much about the plot because I didn’t want to spoil what are a number of good reveals in the film.  I will say that all three leads do great jobs both with the mystery and with the humor.  They all get witty lines and funny situations with which to shine.  The humor that is in the movie is more of the subversive kind than it is the pie in your face kind.  Some might call this a dark comedy.

By the way, the title of the movie was taken from an old Asian reference to James Bond when his movies first came out.  He was referred to as “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, which is a pretty succinct description, if you think about it.

My biggest negative with the film is probably the relative ages of Downey, Jr. and Monaghan.  In the film they are supposed to be the same age, but in real life they are more than 10 years apart, and in real life Downey, Jr. looks older than his actual age and Monaghan looks younger than her actual age.  It made swallowing the fact that they were supposed to be contemporaries pretty difficult.

This is a minor quibble, though.  Unless you hate action, mystery, and humor then I highly recommend this movie.  It is a very entertaining film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

[Note – you can read about the best non-traditional Christmas movies at this link.]

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  1. I really enjoyed Kiss Kiss, Downey Jr hasn't been as good since, nor has Kilmer. Really enjoyed the review.

  2. @John Baxter - Thanks for the kind words. Most people I know who have seen the movie have really liked it.

  3. I'll have to check this one out! Good review btw!

  4. @Michael Parent - Thanks. Please let me know what you thought of it when you do see it.