Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) 10/10
Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) tells the tale of how he got flown to Hollywood for a screen test. There he runs into his childhood sweetheart Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) and is introduced to a detective known as “Gay Perry” (Val Kilmer). Gay Perry is supposed to teach Harry about real detective work for his upcoming role. Soon Harry, Perry, and Harmony are embroiled in a complex murder mystery that hearkens back to the Johnny Gossamer detective stories that Harmony adored as a child.

I was completely surprised by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. First, because I had a mistaken impression of what I was renting—the title, and the reviews I’d quickly skimmed, gave me the impression it was a spy movie parody ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is a phrase associated with James Bond). But in fact, detective movies are a very different genre than spy movies, and this film plays in the detective realm. I’m not even sure I’d call it a parody. Certainly it is a comedy—a very witty one—that plays with Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane sensibilities, but it’s not interested in sending up those movies. It’s really just interested in having fun, while commenting wryly on the difference between reality and the movies.

And this movie is tremendous fun. Starting with the opening narration (“My name is Harry, and I’ll be your narrator”), it whips along at breakneck pace, tossing off bon mots faster than I can look up the correct way to pronounce them. Downey and Kilmer have terrific chemistry, and Monaghan, while not a great actress, keeps up with the twists and turns gamely. In fact, this is more a screwball comedy than anything else, with Monaghan and Downey providing the romantic banter, with a second (and more prominent) layer of banter between Kilmer and Downey. Monaghan is no Rosalind Russell, but she makes a fine Girl Friday.

Through Harry’s narration, KKBB tells you about detective stories (particularly the fictional Johnny Gossamer) while contrasting them with real murder mysteries. Inevitably, you know you’ll find the plot becoming increasingly like the fictional sort, to Harry and Perry’s chagrin. There are a few small missteps—the “aha” moment that you expect at the end of any detective story was too opaque, and an obvious joke about “there are always exactly sixteen deaths” could easily have paid off with sixteen deaths (instead there were about ten).

Still, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a movie full of charm, wit, and good will, while still having a satisfying sense of menace.

(Cross Cross Post Post)