The Watch List: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

By Joe Strange


With the news today that Shane Black (Ironman 3, Lethal Weapon) is most likely going to be rebooting Predator, I felt like now’s the best time to share with you one of my all time favourite films, which just so happens to be Black’s directorial debut.

Based partly on Brett Halliday’s novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, and opening in only 169 cinemas, Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had meek box office takings. It went by unnoticed by most, and what a shame that was. Because it’s really is a fantastic film.

Harry Lockart (Robert Downey Jr) is a guy who ‘steals shit’, and who lucks into an acting job after a robbery goes wrong and is promptly shipped off to LA where he meets Private Investigator Gay Perry played fabulously by Val Kilmer. Here he accidentally reunites with his high school crush and aspiring actress Harmony (Michelle Monaghan; Source Code, Due Date). Perry is laden with giving Harry detective lessons and soon a series of bodies, set ups and severed fingers force Harry, Harmony and Perry into a real life murder investigation.

This being a Shane Black film, it’s of course set at Christmas, but it’s about as Christmassy as Ironman 3, and I have to wonder if the Predator remake will have hidden stockings or candy canes in the scenery.

The opening title sequence combined with the distinctive soundtrack tips Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s stylised hat to 50’s detective dramas, but the animation heralds the comedy that is to come.

But while the cinematography and the soundtrack are good, the script is where the film really excels. The witty dialogue between Kilmer’s blunt and sardonic Perry and Downey’s constantly flustered Harry never ceases to disappoint. Lending us some of the greatest insults heard on film, with the natural ease of the conversation between Harry and Harmony giving relief to the two lead men’s constant back and forth.

Black’s excellent character interactions and shock moments give this film a razor sharp comedic edge. The entire story is laced by the self aware and always entertaining narration of Downey’s character, which jumps back and forth due to his confessed ‘crappy narration’. But in fact the script leaves out just enough to keep us guessing, leading you to think one thing and pulling the rug from under you at just the right time.

The narration is aided by the comparison between the film’s events and the fictitious Johnny Gossamer novels that are constantly referenced during the film and is one of the film’s best assets. This observation, that the film’s events mirror the novels is not missed by the film’s characters and is a well used plot point to motivate our three characters.

More cynical movie goers may find the plot contrived and convenient in many respects, and while they may not be completely wrong, the charming narration subverts this in a meta conclusion.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a pleasant surprise when I first saw it over four years ago, and is definitely in my personal favourite top five, it’s funny, smart and edgey and definitely deserves your attention. Hell it’s not even that long so it’s not like it’d take up much of that either!

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