Published on May 7th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 
Summary: This take on detective novels and Hollywood genre cliches is exciting, witty, and well-acted. Though despite making fun of overused plot devices, it still contains a good amount of them.
R | 102 min.
Director: Shane Black | Screenplay: Shane Black (based on Brett Halliday’s novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them)
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Studio: Silver Pictures | Distribution: Warner Bros.
“Welcome to L.A. Welcome to the party.”
So says Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘s narrator/protagonist Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.) in the film’s first ten minutes–and despite the dead bodies, dangerous car chases, multiple plot twists, and testicular torturing present in this movie, I would gladly accept the invitation again.
Director & screenwriter Shane Black puts together a fast-paced, witty, and exciting tribute to both hardboiled detective novels and their Hollywood adaptations. This movie constantly breaks the fourth wall as Harry will point out genre cliches and even reference other films as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang drives home its central theme of superficiality. One of the most aggressive flashes of self-awareness comes near the ending, after a fade from black when Harry reassures the audience, “I saw the last Lord of the Rings–and don’t worry, I’m not gonna have the movie end like 17 times.” This can be a clever device but it’s also what keeps this film from being truly great as the plot invariably ends up following all of the cliches it points out!
If there’s a mention to detective stories always involving two separate ongoing cases that somehow become related at the end, then you can bet it will happen in the film–and when Harry sarcastically laughs at protagonist characters miraculously surviving sure death due to studio pressure, one of the film’s characters does exactly this. It is refreshing that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang points out how ridiculous some of these genre staples are, but would have been more effective if it managed to avoid incorporating them.
The story follows Harry, who left a life of career thieving in New York City to pursue acting in Los Angeles after accidentally stumbling into (and nailing) a movie audition while fleeing police on-foot. When he arrives to the left coast, he attends a swanky Hollywood party where he meets a private detective/acting coach named “Gay” Perry (Val Kilmer)–as well as his high school “dream girl” Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), who’s also pursuing a career in showbiz. While Harry is out with Perry on a case, the pair witness a murder and subsequently realize they could be framed for it. Meanwhile, Harmony’s estranged sister is found dead of an apparent suicide, but as the trio investigate in the days following–they discover the sinister truth behind both deaths.
Casting Downey as the sardonic central character was a stroke of genius as it fits his dry, smartass comedic styling to a T. Monaghan is also effectively abrasive and sexy as the female lead, but Kilmer is the film’s greatest surprise. “Gay” Perry has an even quicker wit than his counterpart, and Kilmer delivers ruthless put-downs like the Iceman delivered punishing spikes on the sand volleyball court twenty years prior. He and Downey seem to have a genuine chemistry, which goes a long way in making their characters endearing–although they kill people, curse like sailors, and constantly rip on others, they actually don’t come off as assholes!
The real star of this movie may be the corpse of Veronica Dexter though, as its treated worse than any dead body since Aunt Edna was strapped to the top of the family truckster. In the course of the film, her body is peed on, shot in the head, thrown from the roof of a building, and dumped out of a van off an overpass. It actually makes Weekend at Bernies seem like a guide to proper postmortem care.
Like any memorable detective film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is full of illusions from start-to-finish, but thanks to clever narration–the audience never feels lost in the tricky plot. Composer John Ottman creates a fitting score that’s equal parts bouncy fun and mysterious scene-setting–much like the film itself. Also, now you’ll have another option in your non-traditional Christmas film canon, alongside Die Hard and Bad Santa. You’ll have a blast watching Downey and Kilmer go tit for tat in this offbeat modernization of the hardboiled detective genre.