Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is titled like your typical action flick-in fact, the name was taken from a song used in the James Bond movie Thunderball. But, the film is anything but ordinary. Kiss Kiss is a twisted murder mystery, anchored by two solid leading performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, that also manages to seamlessly weave humor throughout.
Downey's character, Harry Lockhart, is a small-time criminal lifting Christmas presents from stores when an ensuing chase with police accidentally leads him into a movie audition. His confused "performance" earns him a trip to Los Angeles where he meets people that are as shady as he is, although their chosen line of work, the film business, is legit.
It would be easy to make an obligatory "Robert Downey Jr. as a criminal" joke here, but his work in Kiss Kiss is too good to trivialize it with cheap humor. Downey is one of the smartest actors in Hollywood today. His witty and sly manner lets the audience know he is in on the joke, and he adds another superb role here to his already impressive filmography, which also includes the recently released Good Night, and Good Luck.
In order to train for his role as a private detective in the movie, Lockhart is assigned to shadow a real working gumshoe, Perry Van Shrike (Kilmer). Kilmer also proves to have a keen sense of comic timing even though he has not appeared in a comedy since his early days with Top Secret! and Real Genius.
Kilmer's character is more affectionately known (or labeled, depending on how you want to look at it) as "Gay Perry," for self-explanatory reasons. Although homosexuality can often be treated crassly, Kilmer manages to stay respectful and hilarious; in fact, he is the more assertive and strong-willed of the two leads.
In a recent interview with The Beacon, the actor-who brought the gay slant to the character-said he made this decision as with any other acting choice, because it would fit better in the film.
"You can affect the spirit of a character, but you can't change the vibe of a movie," he said.
In the same interview, writer/director Shane Black, the late 80s to early 90s action wonder child who penned films such as Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, compared the collaboration of the two actors to that of Frank Sinatra and U2's Bono. Indeed, the two make music out of Black's witty script, which is loaded with one-liners that are often drowned out by laughter from the previous joke.
Black also has an eye for plotting his so-called "comedy/ thriller/retro noir." He lays out a complex murder plot, the inspiration for which came from the pulp fiction novels in which the men were gents, the ladies were dames and murders over money were a dime a dozen-all of which come into play during Kiss Kiss.
Black successfully satirizes the way of life in Hollywood, particularly by making fun of the stereotypical young actress-the type who gets off a bus from the Midwest and ends up becoming another cocktail waitress chasing money and the Hollywood higher-ups who can land her a big break.
Also, the narration by Downey is self-referential, winking at the audience members that they are, in fact, watching a movie, and name-checking recent blockbusters for a laugh.
The look that Black gives the film eschews the traditional dark colors of noir for a color scheme befitting the bright lights of Hollywood. He clearly also learned something from all the films he wrote, as he manages to capture one of the most unique and exhilarating car crashes in recent memory.
With Black being a first-time director, the movie could have been a similar wreck. Black, however, has done his homework and, thanks to a combination of two great actors and a mercilessly hilarious script, his directorial debut comes out with a Bang.