Saturday, February 7, 2015


I watched KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) for the first time yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A better title for the film might just be WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE as this comedy/mystery film is incredibly self-referential. The movie knows it's a movie, and a genre film at that. Director Shane Black plays with the structure and format of the film in several places. He has the film literally stop mid-frame a couple of times to allow Robert Downey Jr., who narrates the action, to comment on what's going on and fill us in on stuff we need to know.

KISS KISS BANG BANG is a valentine to a certain type of hard-boiled crime story. Story chapters are named using the titles of Raymond Chandler novels and L.A. is drenched in primary colors (day and night). Sure there are dead bodies (several of them). There's gun play, violence and a pretzel of a plot but KKBB is no film noir. Its' tongue is planted too firmly within its' cheek to ask us to take any of this glorious, goofy fun seriously

Downey stars as Harry, a small time thief in New York City who stumbles into an audition for a crime film while on the lam from the cops at the beginning of the story. His reading of the material is good enough to win him the part in the film and before you know it, he's in Los Angeles. The producers of the film assign Perry, a gay private detective (Val Kilmer) to give Downey some on-the-job training in the detective business to help him prepare for the film. Kilmer, puffy faced and slightly pudgy is hysterical and even though Downey is the star, Kilmer almost steals the film out from under him.

As fate would have it (fate, hell, it's a narrative contrivance, pure and simple), the first night Harry's in LA he runs into Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), his old flame from their childhood in Indiana (we see them at the very beginning of the film performing a magic trick at a church fair). Harmony is an "actress" with one beer commercial to her credit but she's Harry's one, true love and he's determined to win her over. Even if he has to lie to her and tell her he's a detective.

Harry and Perry and Harmony soon get involved in a complicated murder case involving three dead women (one of whom is Harmony's sister) and before you know it, they're all down a rabbit hole of mayhem including a severed finger that won't stay sewn on, torture, dead bodies in shower stalls and a derringer concealed in a crotch holster.

The glue holding all of this insanity together is a series of cheap paperback mysteries starring private detective Johnny Gossamer. They have clever titles and feature painted covers with voluptuous females and tough guy private eyes. The killer has a complete collection of these novels and a Johnny Gossamer film was shot in Indiana when Harry and Harmony were young. That's an important clue folks. Harry and Harmony have read enough of the books to know that there are always two cases in one of his books, two cases that, while appearing to be separate, eventually dovetail into one case in which everything is connected. Which is what happens here.

The Johnny Gossamer books (which are seen onscreen several times), are a playful nod to the paperback mysteries written by Bret Halliday starring private eye Mike Shayne. In fact, the screenplay of KKBB (also by Black), is loosely based on this novel:

I've read some of these books and I have a few on my shelf that I haven't gotten around to yet. They're great fun and while it would be cool to see a straight forward, faithful film based on a Shayne/Halliday novel, KKBB is the next best thing.

Trivia: MR. KISS KISS BANG BANG is the name of a song written to be used as the title track for the James Bond film THUNDERBALL. The song, written by John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, was recorded twice. First by Dionne Warwick, the second time by Shirley Bassey. In the end, the producers went with "Thunderball" sung by Tom Jones. The title Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is allegedly one given to Bond by Japanese moviegoers.

When you get right down to it, KISS KISS BANG BANG is a perfect title for this film. It perfectly describes the action that starts with a kiss and ends with a bang. Highly recommended.


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