Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
As every other reviewer covers their personal favourite Christmas films at this time of year, I felt duty bound to talk about one of mine. I could have picked any of the plethora of Christmas classics ranging from It’s a Wonderful Life to Elf, but just wasn’t feeling any of them. I was going to do Die Hard, but I think the whole “Die Hard is the best Christmas film ever” stuff is played out and stale. Luckily for me, the brilliant Shane Black loves Christmas and it features heavily in nearly all of his films. He even made summer blockbuster Iron Man 3 all festive an’ shit, one of the many problems whining nerds had with what I think is one of the best superhero films ever. I was introduced to this film a few years ago and it was a revelation. It’s not only one of my go-to titles for this season, it’s one of my favourite films period. Whilst it enjoys some notoriety, it’s still not reached the “required viewing status” I feel it deserves. So, if you’ll indulge me, allow me to wank lyrical about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
“You don’t get it, do you? This isn’t “good cop, bad cop.” This is fag and New Yorker. You’re in a lot of trouble.”
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tells the story of Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a chancer thief who gets whisked off to Hollywood to screen test for a film. Whilst in Tinseltown, Harry reunites with his highschool crush Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), also an aspiring actor. Harry goes on a ridealong with private detective Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) to research his part and the pair get embroiled in a murder mystery case with twists and turns abound. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is often seen as the film that kickstarted RDJ’s renaissance and put him on a path to the top of the A List. It’s blindingly obvious to see why. He’s genuinely fantastic as Lockhart. We all know that he can handle fast paced, witty dialogue but there’s a brilliant nuance to his performance. What could have easily been a smug, too-cool-for-school type arsehole of a character in the wrong hands becomes a three dimensional person you care for thanks to RDJ and Black. Same goes for Michelle Monaghan who is the heart of the movie for reasons other than the patronising one of her simply being a woman as seen in most shitty films. She’s initially portrayed as a standard unattainable dream girl for our hero to pine after, but things run so much deeper than that. Monaghan is the best she’s ever been and really gives as good as she gets as Harmony. She’s truly multi-faceted and ends up incredibly endearing. I dare you not to fall in love with her. Val Kilmer has recently become a bit of a joke on the Internet, especially after playing Batman in ’95, which is a crying shame. He damn near walks away with this film, despite the stiff competition from RDJ and Monaghan. Gay Perry is one of the most complete and memorable characters I can think of. He gets nearly all the best lines and acts as a sarcastic mentor to Harry. I can’t get over how damn good he is in this film and as such will always defend him when it comes to people slagging him off.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘s script is a goddamn masterpiece. It’s tighter than a miserly drum. It’s like a wonderful kind of metronome. Set-up, pay off, set-up, pay off. Even seemingly incidental things end up playing a part later on in the narrative. Nothing is there by chance. That’s not to say it’s mechanical. There are plenty of great interactions, endlessly quotable lines and brilliant character beats. The murder mystery shenanigans aren’t really the film’s focus, although it is the goal our leads are working towards. The characters actively drive the plot, rather than the plot dictating their actions. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ends up being a satisfying watch because it knows how to tell a good story and has the confidence to play around with conventions. It takes basic pulp novel noir clichés and has fun with them.The fast-paced funny dialogue is the film’s bread and butter and it’s as smart as a whip. It’s densely written. It reminds of The Simpsons, not in the sense of humour as such, but more in the way that I’ll find myself laughing at different lines on each rewatch. The way that Black plays with words (including a discussion on the difference between the usage of “badly” as an adverb) is just preaching to my personal choir. The writing is delightfully meta too. We have Harry narrating the film and cocking it up, forgetting to show scenes etc. He will occasionally stop the film and spool it back to show us a plot-important flashback.There’s even a scene early on which ends with Lockhart remarking on how expositional and functional it is.
What makes a good Christmas film? If you asked that question you’d get a thousand different answers from a thousand different people. In my book, a Christmas film has to have genuine affection for the season and feature goodwill and love (in some form). It’s a short list, but I’ve seen films featuring Santa Claus, elves and all the other Christmas shit you can imagine fall at one or both hurdles. Using my self-imposed criteria I think Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a great Christmas film. Our heroes don’t really get into the spirit of things because they’re often in danger or pursuing clues but you can tell there’s a love for the traditions. Christmas makes a great backdrop for stuff like this partly because it makes the dark shit seem darker due to the irony of the setting and partly because it makes the cheery parts more genuine, tying in to the general sense of fun and goodwill. I’m surprised (but actually kind of glad) that more films aren’t set at Christmas for these reasons.
“Well, for starters, she’s been fucked more times than she’s had a hot meals.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. It was neck-and-neck and then she skipped lunch.”
I would usually go into spoiler territory here and discuss my favourite scenes and the like, but as I said in my opening paragraph- it’s not exactly the most widely seen film out there (although I’m guessing that RDJ’s profile over the past couple of years has helped with that). If you’re sick of mawkish animated crap or shitty films in general around this time of year, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is just the ticket for that. Even if you have seen it, it’s always worth a rewatch.