Movie Review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

“Buddy Noir” describes this shockingly hilarious romp through urban LA.

Director: Shane Black (Writer of the Lethal Weapon movies)
MPAA Rating: R (language, violence and sexuality/nudity)
What I Expected: A funny crime drama with a classic style.
What I Got: A hilarious, intelligent crime drama that successfully updates a classic style.
Appeals To: Buddy film nuts, modern noir afficionados, anyone looking for something fresh.

It seems as of late that I will give credit to any movie that stops me cold in my “I saw it coming” amateur film student tracks and slap me with a fish – warm or cold – and proceeds to laugh alongside me at the total randomness of the situation. Perhaps I have been too jaded – it is easy to predict and expect the right things walking into any average movie. However, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a film that is a laughable mix of brutal honesty, ticklishly sharp wit, and a timeless style.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is touted as a buddy noir. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after the opening scene of the movie. Shane Black, writer for Lethal Weapon, practically owned the major buddy film franchise of the late 80’s. A quick glance at the opening credit splash and a brief moment into Robert Downey Jr.’s immediately poignant, swift, and sharp dialogue that this is going to be a modern take of those classic detective noirs.

Of course, by then, it is already established that this film is going to spin things to the darkly humorous tidings of modern society. Downey Jr. plays your narrator Harry Lockheart, a semi-bungling petty thief who is otherwise entirely brilliant, as his narration fits my idea of perfection: it is entirely personal, almost to the point of being fourth-wall breaking, playing gleefully with the notion that he is telling the story as a movie while hurling insults at everything that makes him.

He is supported by a hard, gay detective played by Val Kilmer and a sexy 30-something aspiring actress played by Michelle Monaghan, who has all the physical qualities of the girl next door and all the behavior patterns like a regular LA call girl. Without going into too much, you will love their command as much as you love the way Harry tells them. Kilmer’s Gay Perry is cunning and intelligent, with sarcasm so biting you could have squeezed it from a lemon with your teeth, but he is not without empathy. While his character is far from a flamboyant pushover, it is still clear that he is queer – a fact that he takes advantage of. Monaghan’s Harmony, on the other hand, is a lovely paradox; it is not a stretch to see her in the LA fast lane, but there is a dorky quality of her character that brings her close enough to home that you might forget about her heavy-handed sexual promiscuity. Of course, it’s practically a given that our three stars execute their roles to perfection.

If this crew of wildly mismatched lead roles doesn’t seem to you like they’d hit the big city like a Californian earthquake, don’t worry – you’re still not too dull to see this movie. While there are undertones of heavier materials, doses of both academically brilliant dialogue and sophomoric shock-value humor push their way into your senses nonstop in this film, making this cinematic experience a feel-good drug. At times, however, it does feel as though some of the serious topics in this film are being forced on, feeling like inorganic afterthoughts between moments of intelligent banter and hilarious, jaw-dropping moments. Still, a dark nature is necessary given its purpose, but they don’t make any of it as shocking or comical as other modern noirs might.

Barring that one minor shortcoming, this movie is wildly intelligent and vastly surprising – I’ve watched this film several times and parts of it still surprises me. If you want a film that will make you laugh, with a modern twist on a classic theme, watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Come for the well-executed dialogue and performances, stay for the surprises.

~ Setsuna Setsunai

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