Santa baby, can I hurry down your chimney tonight?
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, USA, Shane Black)
Ben and I kick around the tires of this po-mo puff piece.
What can I tell ya? I was out of the house and Monica rebelled. She picked this up along with The Producers, which I missed. I think this is the first time I am sending you a review of a film I don't know whether or not you have seen yourself. I suspect you have but in case you haven't, this is your spoiler alert. But I don't plan to get into too many details, indeed, I plan to write a short (catty) review.
Just when I thought it would be possible for me not to mention Tarantino... The cover informs me that the director of KKBB is the brains behind Lethal Weapon. This is easy to believe. Because KKBB is Leathal Weapon-ish in the extreme except updated. By "updated" I mean that in many respects it is trying to be Pulp Fiction. You have to give Tarantino his due, or at least give PF (and perhaps Reservoir Dogs too) its due. Tanantino's reverent approach to a certain genre but irreverent approach to many of its conventions consolidated the ironic postmodern sensibility about style itself. This continues to be ground zero for action movies targeted to the portion of the market with at least enought intelligence to get into university if not necessarily finish a degree. KKBB expects the viewer to have actually learned something in the sociology course taught by that soldily liberal professor. Much of it's charm rests on its not-so-gay-but-nevertheless-gay-positive character and sorta-feminist-I-suppose-strong-female character, nicely delivered by Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan (new to me) respectively. It's positively cute how the leading man gets not the girl but rather the other guy in the end... of the film, of the film. This is definitely a nicer and more politically correct universe than Tarantino's, that's clear.
Still, the stylistic attitude, the general tone of KKBB is plainly derivative of Tarantino's and what is more (less, that is), the formal construction of the picture is a template of Pulp Fiction. Precisely, this is a buddy movie with a second major character trajectory woven into it. PF is much more imaginative in the way it slices-and-dices this, messing with chronology and incorporating peripheral incidents. KKBB is much more straight forward with respect to time and the peripheral incidents are much more forced. The plot in PF is actually not that convoluted. It is Tarantino's exposition of it that is and this is the cheif inventiveness of the film. In KKBB, the plot is quite complicated and bogs down more than once as the characters have to explain it to the audience with dialogue. This undermines the pace and eventually the tone of the film. It starts to become a rather lame detective affair, itself little more than an excuse for the action and jokes. As for the latter two and speaking personally, I enjoy the humour* but there is only so much violence I can take as a vehicle for it. I felt that way about Lethal Weapon then and I feel that way about KKBB now. (* I would love to quote my two favourite jokes but I refrain in case you have not seen the film.) To conclude, Robert Downey Jr. is one of the better actors of his generation in my estimation. He gets to have a lot of fun in this role and it's entertaining to see him do so.
have seen the film, and I did enjoy it, for what it was. I gave it a B minus-ish grade, I believe.
Other than the three central performances (and (a) great to see Downey and Kilmer chewing it up again. Love those guys (b) Monaghan gives what they call in the biz a breakout (breakthrough?) performance, as I'd ever heard of her before this either. This despite the fact that I've seen several films in which she appears, such as The Bourne Supremacy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and North Country (though I have a vague memory of her in the latter. Always in a small supporting role up until this point, she springboarded from this into Mission Impossible 3, so here's hoping she doesn't go the way of most Hollywood ingenues and (c) MM looks FINE in a Santa suit) the irreverence and humour are the selling points. I agree that the storyline is unnecessarily complicated, and the mystery ultimately uninteresting, but I guess the writer/director (Shane Black) felt an urge to overcompensate for nearly a decade of not getting any work. This is his first directing gig--as you note, the dvd champions him as the writer of Lethan Weapon (he wrote all four of them) but has done little else beyond these films.
Now, fess up. What are your two favourite jokes?
#1 - Delivered by V. Kilmer as he and R. Downey interrogate/terrorize some guy. "Hey, this isn't good cop, bad cop here. This is fag and New Yorker."
#2 - Delivered by Corbin B immediately after he is shot by R. Downey. "Captain fucking magic!"
2. de har.
Hey, it turns out I actually wrote a review for this. One the official review for Apollo Guide, the second an addendum on my blog.
"Imagine the Steven Soderbergh [I reckon you could substitute QT] of Ocean's 11 fame taking on a classic pulpy film noir, like Kiss Me Deadly or The Maltese Falcon (assuming you identify it as noir) and you just might have an idea of what Shane Black, best known as the writer of Lethal Weapon, has accomplished with his directorial debut. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a clever, post-modern noir, equal parts loving homage and biting parody that, despite its limitations, cleanly clears the bar of my expectations.
Robert Downey Jr., plays third rank petty thief Harry, a fast talking con artist who accidentally stumbles into an opportunity to make a screen-test. It's great to see Downey has landed on his feet, and he is reliably wonderful herein, playing a man full of insecurities and unresolved issues who is thrown into situations way over his head. Val Kilmer, who plays Gay Perry, a gay private eye hired to teach Downey how to act like a P.I., steals most of his scenes. The pair makes a terrific sleuthing tandem, bouncing off each other wildly, in the manner of the best sort of character foils. In the process of being trained by Gay, Harry stumbles into a plot that involves incest, kidnapping, blackmail and murder most foul. Also tossed into the mix is the requisite femme fatale, Harmony Faith Lane ( Michelle Monaghan) a childhood obsession of Harry's who was the one who got away, but not until after she bagged every guy in the graduating class except Harry.
Black clearly knows his way around this sort of pulpy tale, and he tells it with verve and panache. He appropriates the most obvious elements of the noir genre, such as the jaded voice-over narration, the bon mot-riddled and sexually-charged dialogue, the duplicitous behaviour of known and unknown associates and the palpable sense of dissolution and degeneracy that is key to the mood of such pieces, and manipulates them to create the sort of post-modern noir that will have film lovers laughing in recognition, though it may leave purists a little cold.
Admittedly, the film is at times just a tad too self-congratulatory with the kind of wink-wink nudge-nudge self-awareness you often find in such homages dressed up as parodies, and there are more than a couple of late-breaking plot developments that require the audience to not so much suspend disbelief as forget the word ever existed. Further, there are times when the film's wincing violence is jarring, and threatens to kill the comic mood the rest of the tale is trying to establish. Still, the film is so playfully told, with some chillin' chapter inter-titles, self-conscious narration and a deliciously self-denigrating narrative, that it's easy to overlook these weaknesses and go with the flow.
Strangely, Roger Ebert has complained that the film's dialogue fails because it doesn't advance the plot. I say strangely because you would think a fellow as well-versed in such matters would know that there are many functions of dialogue, but that particularly in film noir, propelling the plot falls far back in the scheme of things compared to other concerns such as character development, sustaining (often sexual) tension between characters, and shading in the film's mood. Just listen to the exchanges between Bogie and Bacall in To Have and to Have Not, or between Garfield and Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice . While Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is flawed, its failure to use dialogue to move the plot along is not one of its weaknesses.
"My review for this film is up at Apollo Guide, but I have a few additional thoughts. Consider this portion my version of the director's cut. At first, I struggled with the concern that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang lacks a firm sense of raison d'etre. Why here and why now? Noir films depicted a post-war world full of fears and paranoias about the role of men in a world suddenly populated by liberated women, and the role of America in a world apparently falling head over heels in love with communism. Plus, there was that whole atomic bomb imminent self-destruction thing. So, I wondered, why does Kiss Kiss Bang Bang choose contemporary LA as a setting for this film noir "pomage" (parody+homage)? It turns out it is possible that the film's purpose is revealed in what I initially saw as the film's half-hearted stabs at social relevance through the sexual abuse/incest angle. When Harry commented that perhaps somebody picked up and shook the American blanket , and all the normal ones on the east coast were able to hold on while the rest, who had been diddled by Uncle Charley or suffered some other form traumatic abuse, ended up in Hollywood, it feels as if Black is edging towards a Theme here. Still, at first, I thought that these moments were mostly for show, and a few grim laughs in the film's darkly amusing party scenes, because there is a moment near the film's end when a central character delivers a slap down of an ancient sexual perpetrator that feels particularly unearned. But this all might be part of Black's own commentary on the damaged nature of those attracted to the lights of Hollywood, hoping to find something in those lime lights to ease the terrible pains that chased them there. And perhaps Black is attacking the incestuous nature of doing business in the Hollywood system, and the beat down of the aged pervert at film's end is a metaphorical smack down of the cruelty exhibited by ancient studio suits towards the weak and the fragile who come to this company town in hopes of finding a cure for what ails them. The thought that Black, who is making his directorial debut two full decades after his breakthrough screenplay for Lethal Weapon, and who has struggled to find work, last seeing a screenplay produced nearly a decade ago, would choose to wedge such a commentary into his film is intriguing, though I admit that this risks stretching the thesis to the point at which it is so thin it no longer takes material form and floats off into the blog-o-sphere, but I'm willing to risk it. It might also help to explain why he is finding the studio's recalcitrant about supporting his film with a meaningful and dedicated advertising campaign. Then again, you'd have to give the folks who make these decisions an awful lot of credit for being able to see this kind of subtext, when the reality is they probably are simply unsure how to market the damned thing."
At this point I have become fascinated by how we differ over what we have in common. You are just so forgiving and it-takes-all-kinds and you've-got-to-accentuate-the-positive. You notice the same things I froth against full-tilt but you do so with gentle complaint. Is it simply because you have "seen too many truly bad films to pick on the merely good ones," as you explained in relation to The Straight Story? Is KKBB merely good? Perhaps you were playing me a bit when you remembered that you had written a review of it for Apollo and even an appendix to this on your blog. But if you really did forget writing a review of KKBB, how memorable can the film itself be? If it is merely good it is so for merely a minute. I know that few films are in the same league as Persona but come on - something like, say, Sorcerer, is head and shoulders above KKBB, (notice I didn't compare it to Wages of Fear, which Sorcerer itself is way below). Or should I be comparing KKBB to, I dunno, Beverly Hills Cop? It's all so disposable.
What is really sad is that I can't just leave it at that. Hence, I want to agree with you that when Gay Perry slaps the father-rapist at the end of the movie it is entirely unearned, as you say, and intolerant downer that I am, I add that it violates the tone of the picture that is being forced down our throats on behalf of an over-the-top bid for hipness. Fuck off with your awkard interjection of moral righteousness.
I also agree with you that Ebert is out of touch this time. Consult my original review and you will see that I attack the dialogue in KKBB - not for failing to advance the plot as Ebert feels, but the exact opposite - for advancing the plot instead of maintaining the Tarantino tone. It is because the plot in KKBB is a load of ad hoc bullocks that this becomes mandatory. Notice how the funny voice-over narrative stops as well as the verbal punch-and-judy between our pals, this irony can not be indulged as the possibilty of actually losing the audience becomes a problem and the dialogue has to spell things out for us, lamely late-breaking, as you note.
Thank you, yes, "the film's wincing violence is jarring."
But at last, something to disagree about, your thesis about KKBB providing some sort of critique of doing business in Hollywood. I've given all I can give to this message as unpacked by you from Mulholland Drive. Fortunately for me, it just ain't happenin' in KKBB and fortunately for you, you know it: " I admit that this risks stretching the thesis to the point at which it is so thin it no longer takes material form and floats off into the blog-o-sphere, but I'm willing to risk it." Well, Dan, you risked it and there it goes, off into the blog-o-sphere.
I remembered KKBB well enough, but I write so many reviews, sometimes I can't remember if I reviewed a film or simply talked about it at some length. As disposable Hollywood films go, it is a cut above most mainly cuz of the work of the three actors (and that Santa suit gets plenty of props too) and the occasional good wise crack.