Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and the wonderful world of Shane Black.
Another movie custom-made for me.
I’m in the perfect market for Shane Black movies. I was born in the mid-eighties, I was raised on action films, and I love hearing a writer/director’s voice come through. Witty, snappy dialogue spewing from the mouths of career criminals is my jam, so whether it’s Tarantino or Black or Scorcese, sign me up.
But I haven’t seen Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang until now.
Hey look, no one starts their life having seen every movie. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to watch a movie a day. There are so many great movies made over the years, and this helps me catch up on 365 of them.
In Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Robert Downey Jr plays Harry Lockhart, a bottom-feeding career thief who stumbles into an audition after being shot escaping a heist. Impressed by his “method” acting, he enters the world of Hollywood. He’s introduced to a private investigator named Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) who he needs to tag along with on a case for real life experience for his role. They find a dead body, which leads them to uncover a plot involving murder, torture, and mistaken identity. He also runs into his old high school crush, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan) who becomes a key player in it all, too.
It’s a complex, layered, neo-noir script, but it’s all held together by Shane Black’s trademark snappy dialogue and a meta narration from Robert Downey Jr. The self-aware narration is exactly the kind of thing that would fall flat on its face and get annoying if it came from a lesser writer. Or director. Or actor, for that matter. It would be easy to poke fun at noir voiceovers. Instead, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’s narration rides the line of parody without falling off. It’s more love letter than snark.
But it’s the performances that make the movie shine. Downey Jr is fantastic. In a way, Harry Lockhart is almost anti-Stark — he’s a guy who charms his way through life but doesn’t have the smarts to back it up. Val Kilmer kills as Perry the Gay Private Eye, and seems to be having more fun in this than any other film I’ve seen him in.
Those two make the buddy pairing that is Black’s calling card, but the final corner of the trifecta is Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Lane. She might be my favourite performance in the movie, and that’s a big call in a movie of great performances. Harmony Lane is played equal parts confident and flawed, Harry’s unobtainable love interest and everyday person. I know that Michelle Monaghan didn’t completely vanish off the face of the Earth, she’s been in plenty of stuff. But watching this today, I’m shocked that she didn’t come out of it a megastar.
Oh, and it’s set during Christmas. Of course. I really like this quote from Shane Black on why so many of his films are set around Christmas:
Christmas represents a little stutter in the march of days, a hush in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives…. I also think that Christmas is just a thing of beauty, especially as it applies to places like Los Angeles.
Christmas has become something of a calling card for Black, but when you think about it that way, it makes sense. Why set a movie in a regular town on a random Wednesday in June, when you can set it in a time and place where everything is different, heightened, people interact more intensely because “lonely people are lonelier” (another quote from Black), and everything is decorated like a movie set? It’s the difference between Darth Vader talking to a subordinate in his meditation chamber in the originals, and Anakin talking to Obi-Wan on yet another couch in the prequels. Setting adds so much.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang reminded me of everything I loved about Shane Black’s approach to movies. His next writing and directing venture is The Predator. I, for one, hope it takes place somewhere around Christmas Eve. Maybe the predator will take a mall Santa's spine and skull as a trophy. With santa hat still on. Merry Christmas! Ok this is a weird ending.