Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: 2005, dir. Shane Black. Seen at Regal Gateway (Dec. 4).
Arrrrgh. How do you write a clear, coherent review of a movie when all you want to say is, “Go see this! You liked Ocean’s Eleven? You get a kick out of riffs on noir with references to Raymond Chandler? You appreciate the rare film with clever dialogue? Well, find this movie and watch it before it leaves theaters, even though it mostly already has and you’ll have to dig it up in a discount theater or something.”
If you haven’t heard of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that’s a real shame. I would gripe that its marketing/release campaign was poor, but how the hell do you convince people to see a weird-ass movie like this? The narrator stops the film at times and rewinds it a bit or jumps it to a different scene, fully aware he’s narrating a movie. I think the last movie where I saw this conceit was Elmo in Grouchland, which I cannot believe I am even mentioning in this review, and which is about 180 degrees different from — well, actually, if you think about the storyline …
Look, I had no idea I was going to like this movie. I skipped it at Austin Film Festival because it was showing only once, late at night, and I figured if the movie was any good I would catch it in theaters later. I thought it would have a wider release than it did, which proves that I didn’t know much of anything about the actual film. I heard that Harry Knowles was running a “Save This Movie” campaign, urging everyone to see it, but he is so happily exuberant about so many movies that I didn’t pay much attention.

I more or less dragged myself to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I believe my boyfriend did the same. We wanted to go out to the movies and it was the least melodramatic movie of any quality on which we could agree. (I wasn’t in a biopic mood.) I thought I’d remembered the reviews as being mixed, and the trailer hadn’t been that great, and I thought it would be a) too loud and b) too clever for its own good (like Adaptation).
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang wasn’t loud, was admirably clever, and will probably turn out to be one of my favorite films of 2005. In fact, I was so charmed by the film that I can’t even remember what the other contenders might be for my favorite 2005 narrative feature film. Um. Strings was good, but it’s hard to love a foreign-language puppet epic in the same way that you love something with dialogue that makes you howl with laughter.
I liked this movie so much that it overcame any cranky feelings I had about having to see it in a theater that showed a stupid twenty minutes of ads and crap followed by a half-dozen trailers for a very mixed bag of films.
The opening credits are reminiscent of Saul Bass and are a delight to watch. I’d seen Robert Downey, Jr. in Home for the Holidays only the week before and wondered if he would be equally as riveting here. He’s different now—a little more mature, a little less likely to fly off into the land of improvisation, and handles the role of an accidental actor-turned-detective quite well. Val Kilmer gets better one-liners than in Tombstone, not to mention that he’s surrounded by a far better movie this time.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is surprising and audacious. The sequence with the coffin … the scene where Harry (Downey) is being questioned by the hospital goons … the conversations between Harry and Perry … the whole “Gay Perry” thing and the dialogue it inspires … I’ve used up my quota of ellipses, so you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that unbelievable things happen, and the movie gets away with it, and makes you gasp a bit and then laugh.
The mystery plot does not quite make sense when you think about it afterwards, but that doesn’t matter. This movie is a Fifties dime novel set in contemporary Southern California, and dime novel rules apply, not real-world logic. Pulp fiction, but with no traces of Tarantino.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is also a very movie movie, which is why I liked it so much. References to other films and to film conventions abound, both visual and aural. As I mentioned before, the narrator is aware that this is a movie and has no compunctions about stopping the film or remarking on the way the story is being told.
And as one extra bit of enjoyment, the soundtrack, which consists mainly of Christmas music, is marvelous. I like the Christmas setting of this movie better than The Ice Harvest, and I think this movie works much better as a whole than that film, which did not quite pull off the “retro-noir-comedy” style.
The only part of the film I could have done without was the bit with the finger, but even that was not overly graphic and I was able to look away briefly without missing anything critical. Plus, it reminded me of an episode of The Simpsons, which was out of place in this type of film.
I regret I didn’t see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at Austin Film Festival, or even the first week it appeared in theaters, so I could urge you all to see it while it was more available. In my defense, none of the smaller-chain theaters in Austin were showing the film (Alamo, Galaxy Highland, or even Dobie) … it was playing solely at large, big-chain theaters like Regal Gateway, which I try to avoid.
My guess is that the distributor attempted to target the film to people who enjoyed other movies that writer-director Shane Black scripted, like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, but that seems to have been an ineffective strategy. The film is too action-y looking for arthouse theaters and too clever and referential for blockbuster theaters, so it’s become lost in the shuffle.
If you’re in Austin, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is playing at Barton Creek Square (the AMC one) for the next week. After that, you’ll probably have to wait for the DVD. The opening credits won’t look quite as good, and some of the funnier details of the climactic action sequence won’t be quite so noticeable. Catch it in a theater if you can. Trust me.

One thought on “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)”

  1. Thanks for this review. I saw the movie Sunday, which I would not have done without your urging. (The movie was on our list, but we would not have gotten to it in time.)
    You’ll also be happy to know that I dragged two people there with me, and one of them dragged another person, so because of you, that’s four people who wouldn’t have been seeing it otherwise. It was only matinee prices, though.
    All four people enjoyed the movie. I liked it and think some of the scenes were really great even though normally I don’t like that much violence. All three other people liked it even better than I did.

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