review: kiss kiss bang bang
2005- dir. Shane Black
starring- Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, & Michelle Monaghan
Not long ago, a wise e-mailer responded to my mission statement, suggesting that I should: "try to keep in mind that many people want "just entertainment" from films rather than a lot of deep stuff, especially after a stressful work week." While many of the films that I intend to review in upcoming posts are, perhaps, a wee bit deeper than anything you might see at your local multiplex (especially during these summer months), I have no plans to recommend an Ingmar Bergman retrospective as an alternative to your regular screening schedule.
The word "deep" is both arbitrary and suspect to me. What makes a film "deep"? Must it be depressing and abstract? Inaccessible to the "masses"? Maybe it has to be "arty" (or even "artsy"), preferably in Black & White and subtitled, with plenty of loooooong close-ups on sorrowful-looking faces or, even better, barren landscapes!! And if I am not a part of the elite group of spectators who enjoy these films, I must be stupid. But I'm hard-headed. Instead of considering why I don't like these deep, deep movies, I choose to ignore them. If I give my opinion, them artsy folks will just make me feel even stupider.
So I'm gonna go see Date Movie, 'cause that's a film made for "ME"... Or is it? You, the reader, are smart. More often than not, you know a shitty movie when you see one... But do you seek out anything better? Again, more often than not, "no." It's not entirely your fault. Better movies (films that I honestly believe would appeal to wider audiences don't get the release that they should) aren't advertized on the sides of HUMMERS, like SUPERMAN RETURNS is.
I do think, however, that a better term than "deep" is "SOPHISTICATED". Here's a word that puts the onus on the film, rather than the viewer. Let me explain: a summer film that I loved, a few years back, was The Mummy. Arguably, The Mummy is a movie that provides "just entertainment". And yet, the filmmakers seem to be aware enough to realize that they are making a modern day "B"-movie. This film is "sophisticated" because it is self-aware. And, yet, you don't need to know how self-aware the film is in order to enjoy it.
On the other hand, I really feel that a film can be too self-aware, so-much-so that the filmmakers think that they are smarter than you. Which brings us to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I am honestly surprised that this film was never released as a "BIG" motion-picture. It was well received by the audience that I saw it with at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it has been praised (big-time) by cult critics like Harry Knowles (of Ain't it Cool News). In addition, it reeks with the elements of success: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a fast paced, accessible caper-comedy with a few good laughs and a couple of top-notch actors (Kilmer & Downey, Jr.). It's written and directed by the guy who penned all four Lethal Weapon's!!! Surely there' would be interest in a film such as this...
So why haven't you heard of it? Well, my theory is that the filmmaker vigorously pumped it up as an "intelligent" movie-- to the point that studio execs felt that it would soar above viewers' heads and they panicked. What they didn't seem to realize is how low-brow this comedy actually is.
The film follows-- and is narrated by-- Harry Lockhart (Downey, Jr.), a career criminal who accidentally stumbles into a Hollywood casting session and finds himself living the life of a hot-new-commodity on the acting scene. He is paired with a professional consultant, a Private Eye who has been dubbed "GAY PERRY" (because he is GAY), in order to prepare for an upcoming role as a detective. "Things" are, of course, complicated when a legitimate crime-- involving Harry's lost love-- eclipses pre-production.
The plot begins to mirror that of a pulp crime novel (which is explicitly defined, in the film, as a story wherein two seemingly unrelated cases converge to reveal ONE ludicrously elaborate conspiracy). To say more would be difficult and would, perhaps, spoil the lame surprises.
I have taken a lot of flack for criticizing this film. People seem to love it, and they seem to think that it is subverting a number of elements of the "crime-comedy" genre... I disagree. I honestly think that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is trying to fool us. This is a film that pokes fun at the conventional crime genre without realizing that it ends up adhering to the formula that it seeks to challenge.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is neither an outright success, nor a failure; it tends to alternate between the two. It begins with some wry subversion of the crime movie formula, but falls into those very conventions for most of the second and third acts. It then over compensates at the end as if to convince us that it's really smart... But is it? The filmmakers strive for satire. At best, however, they achieve parody.
I would like to think that audiences realize the difference, but, it has been my experience, with this film, that they often don't... So, once again, I offer my take:
WHAT YOU MIGHT LIKE: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is pretty funny. You might like the fact that the film takes some chances that a "normal" film wouldn't.... I Iiked that a certain injury never heals... and that a guy pees on a corpse. But, these are the very elements that allowed the filmmaker to say "my film is ground-breaking" when, really, he was only going for cheap laughs.
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE: This film ultimately follows the FORMULA... I respect what it subverts, but IT ENDS WITH A CAR CHASE!!! I cannot recommend a film that pretends to be something "new," but presents you with the "same-old", as if you can't tell the difference.
Also, you might be aware of the fact that two of the greatest actors working today(Robert Downey, Jr. & Val Kilmer) are simply phoning in their performances. I'm not too surprised... They must realize that the characters, as written, are one-dimentional to-the-extreme (especially Kilmer, whose "gay-ness" is articulated when his ring tone plays "I Will Survive"... Oh!! ha ha ha.)
Ultimately, I think that this film is one that you should be embarassed to like. It's not the worst picture ever made.... but it depends on stereotypes for laughs and, even worse, tries to make you feel smart by employing cheap gags.
And,yet, I'm also "WRONG"... I know a lot of people who like this movie... If you have feed-back, this is a great opportunity to send some "spite." I'd love to hear from you.