Shane Black, who wrote and directed the neo-noir comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, loves to throw together characters who really shouldn’t become friends but do exactly that — usually in spite of their better instincts. Take two characters with very little in common, stick them in circumstances which continue to throw them together when they’d rather be apart, and watch the fireworks pop and burgeoning bromance grow. It worked in Lethal Weapon, it worked in The Last Boy Scout, and it works like hell in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It certainly helps in this case that he’s got Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, both incredibly charming actors, to make the awkward friendship work.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: the plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is utterly and completely ludicrous. The mystery at its core relies on such incredible levels of coincidence to get anything at all in motion or to reveal clues to its characters that it’s utterly divorced from anything approaching reality. And I’ll also say this: I truly didn’t care. Don’t watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang expecting a mystery which plays fair and makes sense, because really, this just ain’t the movie for that. I believe Black made the plot this outlandish on purpose, as the entire movie is something of a loving tongue-in-cheek sendup of old film noir flicks. Watch this movie for the actors and their chemistry, for the plentious wit in the screenplay and for the sheer fun of it.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
(out of a possible five)
Petty thief Harry Lockhart (Downey) flees New York for California after the first of those amazing coincidences: he stumbles into an audition for a cop drama while running from the police after being busted trying to steal a toy for his niece. Suddenly he’s at a fancy Hollywood party thrown by producer Harlan Dexter (a creepy Corbin Bernsen), where he’s introduced to Perry van Shrike (Kilmer), a private investigator hired by Dexter to help train Harry for his movie role. Perry also happens to be gay, meaning he’s known as “Gay Perry.” (Get it?) Soon after, Harry meets Harmony Lee (Michelle Monaghan), a woman who seems to be perfect for him — and it’s at that point that the ridiculousness of the plot kicks into high gear, and at this point that it’s best I stop recounting it.
Downey plays Harry in full-on Manic Downey mode: Black’s hyperverbal screenplay fits that aspect of Downey’s persona perfectly. Harry narrates the film in true film noir fashion, but unlike the more hard-boiled narrators of those movies this one reveres, the fourth-wall-breaking Harry forgets details, has to reverse and correct himself, and berates himself for missing crucial bits of plot. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was one of Downey’s first steps toward reclaiming his career, and anyone who enjoyed his performances in 2008′s Iron Man and Tropic Thunder should greatly enjoy him here.
One of the more refreshing facets of the movie was the fact that Kilmer’s portrayal of Gay Perry was, regardless of his character’s name, in no way stereotypically “gay.” There’s none of the pop cultural shorthand we normally use to indicate that a character is homosexual; if Perry and the other characters didn’t tell us himself about his sexuality, we’d have no way to know. The humor in his character isn’t to be found in his homosexuality, but rather in his conisderable wit, his total self-confidence and the way he deals with the much less refined Harry. Any “gay humor” with Perry is in the reactions of other people to him — Kilmer, pardon the phrase, plays Gay Perry totally straight. But it’s still Kilmer’s funniest performance since Real Genius and a reminder that he doesn’t do comedy nearly frequently enough.