(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)
Plot Synopsis: They say love and money don’t mix, but you can’t blame Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) for trying. He’s been whisked from a life of petty crime to Hollywood, where he’ll audition for the role of a movie detective and be tutored for the part by a private eye. Now all Harry has to do is convince the dream girl he meets that he’s an actual detective. And try not to stumble over the corpses as reel life abruptly gives way to the real.
– From DVD Production Notes
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is Robert Downey Jr.’s favorite film of his career, not only personally but professionally. It’s also mine and many others’ favorite (I’m sure) since the film has garnered a sort of hybrid word-of-mouth/inside joke/film snob cult status since its release on DVD. After Downey Jr.’s success in the Iron Man franchise its popularity has only increased.
But first off: credit where credit is due. Most of this film’s magic is Shane Black’s direction and writing. He was a successful screenwriter before (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight) but I get the sense that this was a personal project, something more representative of him as a person than work for a studio. It’s as if he was saving all of his best lines for a special occasion. And he did. Kiss Kiss is so sharply written almost every line of dialogue has the delivery of a guillotine.
Like this, for example:
It’s no surprise that Downey and Val Kilmer are at the top of there game here. What’s notable is that both were at a point in their careers where no one was paying attention. That’s a shame. Downey has always had the chops and his sudden rocketing to superstar status was a great “I told you so” moment.” Kilmer starred in Wonderland (2003) and The Salton Sea (2002) within a few years of playing Gay Perry and I’d argue those films were the most interesting of his career. So he’ll always be cool to me. When the Internet calls him “Fat Kilmer” I’m always like, “YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH.”
It’s also a lot of fun to watch these guys play against type. What I particularly like is Robert Downey Jr. playing someone who has the smarts and survival skills of… well, a really, really dumb person. We’re used to watching him play a smartass with a heart of gold but most of that duty falls on Kilmer’s shoulders instead, which is- I’m sorry- simply fabulous.
This leaves Downey’s Harry Lockhart as the “heart” of the film. It works, and personally I find him more endearing than 95% of the male characters who populate film history. He isn’t perfect by any means, but he genuinely cares about how men treat women. It’s an integral part of his character arc, as well as what he wants.
Of course he gets little to no respect for it and some of his lines on the subject (albeit funny) overshadow that. But I took his actions- no matter how subtle- much more seriously. They’re just as important as every time he proves to be a complete moron or when he gets completely hammered on Demoral.
Then there’s the rest of the plot itself and everything else that comes with it. The memorable lines, moments and sheer meta-genius of this film are too many to discuss, but I will share the one moment that made my sisters and I lose our minds during our first viewing.
Seriously, we rewound that part at least three times.
There’s also no film- no film- that can equal Harry’s unexpected “accident” around the 40 minute mark.
I’m sure nothing will be able to top this in the near future. Or ever. A scene like that in a caper-comedy is truly one in a million.
But beyond all the cleverness of Kiss Kiss is a darkness that’s unusual and touching. There is a subplot about sexual abuse and incest that resolves itself in a way that made me wonder if Shane Black actually knew someone who had gone through it. Gay Perry has the last word on the subject while acting out something I’m sure many people have fantasized about. I wonder if Black has as well.
Aside from this and a few other dark, unexpected moments, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite comedies of all time. So of course I own it. When I made my friends watch it I said, “They have to make a sequel. Why won’t they just make it already? They could call it Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2: Kiss Bang Harder.”
Of course Adam outdid me with the suggestion, “Kiss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Bang Click.”
If you haven’t seen this film already and are planning on watching it, I’ll just preemptively tell you, “You’re welcome.” There’s no way you won’t like it unless you’re a crazy person. In fact, just buy it on DVD. The commentary with Downey, Kilmer and Black is one of the best film commentaries I’ve ever heard.
And above all, remember that this was released before everyone jumped on the RDJ/Iron Man wagon. In its own meta way it predicted his upcoming success and where he is today.
Damn straight. Don’t you ever forget it.
And not surprisingly, Shane Black directed Iron Man 3. Because, wait- was anyone surprised?