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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Image Shane Black as a scriptwriter has been hit-and-miss with the audiences. “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” evenly divides the audience again—viewers will either love this move or hate it. The cock-eyed and intricate plot will lure crime story aficionados and drive away others who prefer a more streamlined approach. The slapstick humor combined with the bloody violence will likewise repel and attract. Downey’s voice-over, as Harry Lockhart, especially with the way he plays with the viewer and goes back and forth in time because he can and because he wants to, will cause another rift.

Black’s first movie starred Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, “Lethal Weapon”, and was the kind of buddy-flick he became known for. “The Last Boy Scout” with Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans followed, then “The Last Action hero”, an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, and “The Long Kiss Goodnight” with Samuel L. Jackson and Geena Davis. All of those films, like “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, center around an odd-buddy pair.

In “Lethal Weapon”, Mel Gibson starred as an action-driven Vietnam vet detective at the end of his rope and Danny Glover as a careful detective about to retire. “The Last Boy Scout” featured Bruce Willis as a man who clung tightly to honor because it was all he had, and Damon Wayans was the guy who had who sold out everything. “The Last Action Hero” featured Schwarzenegger as an imaginary movie detective hero who had to journey to the “real” world after a serial killer escaped and be aided by a young boy. Samuel L. Jackson was a slightly crooked private investigator who teamed up with an amnesiac assassin (Geena Davis) in “The Long Kiss Goodnight”. Black’s odd crime-fighting duo this time out is equally interesting and juxtaposed. Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, a down-on-his-luck petty criminal who ends up trying out for the role of a lifetime. Fleeing from the police, he ends up in an audition that landed him the chance to star as a private eye in a big-name film. He’s supposed to receive on-the-job training from Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) in preparation for the role. Gay Perry’s name actually fits: he’s homosexual. However, Gay Perry, in addition to serving as a consultant for the movies, is also an outstanding, totally together private investigator on the L. A. scene who knows what he’s about. Harry, who at first glance seems to be kind of a man’s man, can’t fight and can’t score with the girl of his dreams (after everyone else has had her). And Gay is, despite being gay, is a hard-nosed dick of the first-caliber.

HD DVD Video: The movie captures a lot of the downtown L. A. scene in great color, including the hard light that floods the exterior shots. The parties are appropriately cloaked in shadow and dappled in neon. The images are crisp, relaying the brutal and bloody scenes in explicit detail.

HD DVD AUDIO: The sound separations in the movie are very well done. However, except for the violence, most of the film is subdued, lending itself to the narrator’s voice. When the violent scenes are portrayed, the audio portion amps up to match. Car crashes reverberate through the surround sound system and thump the subwoofer. Guns “crack” loudly. It’s a big change from the calm voice-over to the action, and it matches the story pacing perfectly.

Robert Downey, Jr. is a consummate actor, albeit one with past problems (that actually get used in the script, which adds to the oddball humor and surreal feeling the film engenders). Harry Lockhart is a thief and small-time booster who ended up on the wrong side of the gun and was given a one-in-a-million chance to get out of town. Unfortunately, he’s just as big a patsy in Hollywood as he was on the East coast. In Downey’s capable hands, Harry becomes a guy the audience can care about and root for. Downey plays the character for all the role is worth, milking the sympathy because Harry is such a loser, then amping up the admiration because he rises to become a hero (another cause for audience diversification).

As Gay Perry, Kilmer does a good job of stringing along almost as a second banana. Kilmer never quite steals the show, which was probably possible several times. Instead, he plays Perry as a foil to Harry, letting Harry have the meatier parts so he could carry the audience. But the snappy patter, the barbed come-back, are private detective standards, and Kilmer delivers them with brutal efficiency that are almost like body blows. He looks the part, debonair and a little heavy. Kilmer is comfortable as lead or in a supporting role, and his performance here is dead-on.

Michelle Monaghan, as Harmony Faith Lane, stars as both the good girl and femme fatale in the detective tale. She’s the girl that Harry’s been in love with his whole life, and yet she’s the one that will drive him absolutely nuts, turn his world upside down and draw him into a whirlpool of danger. Monaghan is awesome in the role, selling both sides of the coin as the scene and the story necessitates. She can play the waif in one scene, then carry a pistol with aplomb in the next.

Corbin Bernsen’s role is fairly small, but he has enough presence to be threatening when the time comes.

The film opens with Harry narrating, as he continues to do throughout the movie. The skips and jumps Harry offers in his meandering way will irritate some viewers who simply want to get into the movie and figure out the story, but they’re delivered in a way that is true to the human condition as well as in a comedic approach that brings willing viewers even closer into the unfolding events.

The actual shooting style (extreme lighting against dark backgrounds) came out in the 1910 and 1920s of Germany. France supplied the romantic and usually fatal components of the story, but it was Hollywood that mixed them all together with the hardboiled private eye novels the way Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote them, as well as the crime novels of James M Cain. All this added up to what was termed “film noir” by French film critics of the 1950s.

Shane Black’s scripts have always leaned on film noir, always dealing with crime and with heroes who were only a stone’s throw away from getting lost in their own problems and shortcomings. They’ve also played their own fools, allowing the bad guys to catch up to them at inappropriate time. His greatest strength is usually the pairing, which he does well in this. Downey and Kilmer work together as well as Harry and Perry. But the tough-guy patter, the violence mixed with the everyday stuff (like Harry accidentally urinating on the corpse the bad guys have dumped in his hotel room) and the casual way it’s doled out, really shine in “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”.

After arriving in Hollywood, Harry goes to a party and voices appropriate dislike of the façade the actors and actresses put on to gain favor. Then he champions Harmony, in love with fictional private eye, Johnny Gossamer, when she goes to sleep and a guy starts taking advantage of her. Harry invites the guy to step outside (true tough-guy code) and gets his butt stomped (another true tough-guy thing in many films, until the end of the movie).

After Perry helps him up, Harry if he knows who the woman was as they watch her go off with the guy who just pounded Harry to pulp. Perry tells Harry that he does know who the woman is, that’s she’s worked for him before, then he tells Harry where she can be found.

When Harry meets Harmony, he discovers that she’s the girl he’s been in love with all his life. He’d always been around her but never quite connected, though everyone else in junior high school and high school did. She explains that she’s an actress and asks him what he’s doing these days. Knowing from another woman Harry’s talked to that Harmony loves private eyes—she used to read the books to her mom—Harry of course tells her that he’s a private eye.

Perry invites Harry along on a stakeout and they end up following a suspect, then witnessing a car drive off into the lake. Perry dives in after the car, knowing that a body is inside. He manages to get the woman out, but finds that she’s already dead from a broken neck. He wants to stay and talk to the cops, but Harry doesn’t want to be involved because he has outstanding warrants. He also points out that Perry has managed to shoot the woman in the head and that will be hard to explain.

Back at his hotel room, Harry gets called by Harmony, who tells him that her sister is in trouble. She’s gone missing. Reluctantly, Harry agrees to take the case on. He gets Harmony out of the room, then discovers that the dead woman he and Perry found earlier is in his bathroom.

From that point on, the plot is a bullet. A convoluted bullet at time, but a bullet all the same. Harry and Perry’s problems intensify, mixing fights, gun battles, car chases--the stuff of thrillers everywhere—with a plot ripped straight out of one of the old paperback private detective novels. (Shane Black even attributes part of the story to Brett Halliday, a tough guy writer who wrote about a PI named Mike Shayne, who fostered his own radio and television programs.)

The special features on the disc are almost non-existent. The availability of the DVD version on the other side of the disc allows a viewer to loan it so someone who hasn’t yet upgraded to HD DVD. The commentary is well worth listening to, as it discusses salient points about the project, the characters, and the work that went into it. Furthermore, the gag reel brings out the fact that everyone connected to the production evidently had a great time on the sets putting everything together.

Although the movie isn’t for everyone, it’ll definitely satisfy the audience wanting another trip down some very mean streets with a couple knockabout investigators who manage to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” definitely earns its R rating in violence that isn’t shown to that degree lately, and nude scenes that have almost been forgotten about in today’s movies. Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer and Shane Black fans will have to add this one to their collections. And for anyone wanting a walk on the wild side filled with fights, one-liners and tough guys, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” would make a great rental.

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