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Overall Rating

Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look45.45%
Average: 15.15%
Pretty Bad: 1.52%
Total Crap: 4.55%

7 reviews, 24 user ratings

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
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by Jay Seaver

"Much enthusiastic ending of lives."
4 stars

Shane Black is sick, but he's the right kind of sick. He starts his movie off with a nine-year-old doing the sawing-a-woman-in-half trick - with a chainsaw. Because kids taking chainsaws to other kids? Funny. And he follows it up with other sickness - body parts severed, corpses treated without proper respect, torture which inevitably focuses on the genitals. The film has no shame about its pulp fiction roots; indeed, even when it subverts its pulp trappings or gets all self-referential, the love far outweighs the mockery.

Our narrator isn't any sort of traditional tough guy; Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a small-time thief from New York who somehow lands in Los Angeles after stumbling into an audition. At a one-time movie star's party, he meets private investigator Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and wannabe actress Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan); it turns out Harmony is his high school sweetheart. The producer who flew Harry out to L.A. asks Perry to give the "actor" P.I. lessons; in the middle of demonstrating how boring most detective work actually is, the pair witness a murder; at the same time, Harmony asks Perry to look into her sister's apparent suicide. In the series of hard-boiled P.I. novels Harmony used to read as a kid, these two threads would be connected, but this is real life, so Perry's desire to steer as clear as possible makes much more sense... right?

This is Black's first turn in the director's chair, but his previous films with producer Joel Silver have been unabashed pulp works, even if they weren't announced as such as flagrantly as they are here. The four days where the bulk of the film's action takes place are treated as chapters, and each chapter takes its name from a Raymond Chandler yarn. Harry and Harmony constantly reference pulp formula, even as Perry scolds them for acting like those devices have any merit. Even as Harry apologizes for his failings as a narrator and comes across as rather a softie (Perry outclasses him in terms of being macho despite what associations might be made with his orientation), the violence around him is sadistic and bloody, hard-R stuff that tends to leave a mark and make the audience wince. The screenplay does have a tendency toward the specific pop-culture reference which may date it in a few years, but maybe not; folks laughed at a man being described as a "Native American Joe Pesci" and Pesci hasn't worked in a while.

The cast is a bit uneven, but works on balance. Kilmer delivers big-time as Gay Perry; even if he hadn't been introduced with that nickname, the audience might be able to pick up on his preference despite his not being very fey at all, and the sarcasm he drops on Downey's character evinces pitch-perfect annoyance. Downey coasts a bit; the character of a screw-up whose lack of excuses earns him audience sympathy is close enough to his real-life perception to seem a little lazy, and his self-aware narration and subdued reactions makes him occasionally seem too detached. Michelle Monaghan makes up for that, though, with her delightfully uninhibited Harmony. She wields her sexuality too well and too readily for her to come across as a tomboy, but the little girl with the nasty sense of humor who loved blood-soaked detective novels is never far off, either; she's one of the guys despite her killer figure.

The story is actually one of the more effective examples of spanning genres I've seen lately. It's an affectionate parody filled with plenty of gross-out humor. It's got black comedy and pop-culture jokes. It's also a pretty solid mystery, with clever twists and turns, lurid details, and unpleasant revelations. And in spite of its jokes about what is and is not a believable event, it escalates to some big set pieces and a body count that seems to pass the point of diminishing returns rather quickly (three or four murders a day is a pretty ambitious schedule of ending human life, when you think about it). It moves between those moods smoothly, though, only tending to trip over itself when it overdoses on the deconstruction and fourth-wall breaking.

Lots of noir stories took place in L.A. during the genre's heyday, but that was the old industrial Los Angeles; this is the slick Hollywood-oriented L.A. of today. Maybe the only way to set a noir in that sort of world is to make it tongue-in-cheek. If so, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is just what the genre needs today.

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originally posted: 11/26/05 16:52:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 FilmFest Kansas City For more in the 2005 FilmFest Kansas City series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/14/14 MatthewThompsonDalldorf Clever and intense with some good laughs 4 stars
4/07/08 Jack Sommersby Overly self-conscious filled with uninteresting story and characters. 2 stars
3/24/08 ladavies It felt like the narration was pasted on at the last minute, but otherwise entertaining 3 stars
3/05/08 mr.mike Worth seeing but a bit too cutesy at times. 4 stars
5/17/07 ES couple of laughs, no hell 3 stars
3/30/07 fools♫gold Funny, finally funny, exceptionally funny, keeps you laughing, and short. 4 stars
3/26/07 Donny M Too good to put into words. 5 stars
1/03/07 Tom Very, very funny. The self referencial humour was clever! 5 stars
11/06/06 AJ Muller Cast is brilliant, script is stellar, Black/Downey/Kilmer/Monaghan absolutely ROCK! 5 stars
9/22/06 Alyssa Hale I hated it, couldn't watch more than 10 minutes of it. 1 stars
8/04/06 Indrid Cold Plays with Raymond Chandler plot and dialogue cliches to great effect. Quite entertaining. 4 stars
6/20/06 JH Great movie. Black humor, plot twists and chemistry. 5 stars
6/15/06 Agent Sands Kilmer & Downey are two of the most charming actors in cinema. 5 stars
6/15/06 Tom Kilmer and Downey were good together over narration worked and fixation on grammar was fun 4 stars
4/29/06 MP Bartley Brilliantly funny script never descends into smugness. Kilmer and Downey Jr are priceless. 5 stars
4/22/06 Aldo had its funny moments...but story could of been layed out better 3 stars
1/19/06 Don Paco Wickedly funny. Downey jr. is great! Bit too wacky at the end, but still a whole lot of fun 5 stars
11/18/05 Robert Braunfeld Lethal Weapon revisited Chemistry not there 3 stars
11/16/05 Erik Van Sant Absolutely the most entertaining and original film I've seen in years. 5 stars
11/04/05 Megan great movie 5 stars
11/03/05 Stephen P F*cking hilarious - just brilliant! 5 stars
10/12/05 Josh Swanson Funny flick, enjoyed it thoroughly. 4 stars
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  21-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 13-Jun-2006



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