Warner Bros. // 2005 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // July 11th, 2006
SeX. MurdEr. MyStery. Welcome to the party.
Screenwriter Shane Black breathed new life into a tired film genre in the '80s when Lethal Weapon came to celluloid and before we knew it, everyone wanted to mimic the formula that Black had down pat. That formula was to put two actors together in a cop film and make them buddies by the middle of the third act. Pretty soon, the genre withered on the vine and even a couple of Black's scripts were victims, The Last Action Hero being the most notable one in recent memory. So does Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang represent a welcome back for Black?
Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr., Good Night, and Good Luck) is a small-time thief in New York who is robbing a department store with his partner. During the course of the robbery, the alarm is tripped and they have to flee. They get split up and Harry stumbles into a casting office reading for a crime film. Harry takes to the scene so well (since the real cops are going through and trying to find the burglars) that Dabney Shaw (Larry Miller, Raising Helen) decides to cast him as the robber and fly him out to Los Angeles. Harry bumps into an old friend named Harmony (Michelle Monaghan, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) who gives him a tour of LA, while Harry also runs into the "technical advisor" for the film, a guy named Gay Perry (Val Kilmer, Real Genius).
Perry takes Harry out for a surveillance trip (as part of his training for the role), and they see a car driven into a lake. Inside the car is a dead body, the newly-reconciled daughter of the film's producer (played by Corbin Bernsen, Major League). Complicating matters further is that Harmony thinks that Harry is a real detective, so she asks him if he will take the case of her sister, even though she committed suicide (despite some questionable circumstances, according to Harmony). And from there, the Joel Silver-produced film takes the helm of the wheel.
Okay, prepare yourselves here; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang features some narration by Downey. More than what you may normally be used to in a film. But in the spirit of Downey's narration, he manages to lure the viewer away from thinking that this is just another cop buddy film and instead decides to slightly poke fun at some of the Hollywood institutions in a rather Elmore Leonard-esque way that makes the events in the film more palatable.
What's even more surprising is that Kilmer appears in a film in which he doesn't take himself seriously. That hasn't happened in years, and no, Wonderland doesn't count. While he plays the gay cop, he's not hesitant to poke fun at the homosexual image, and it's a little bit surprising. And speaking of not being afraid to poke fun at yourself, there's a scene in the film where a shattered, once-famous actor breaks into a house that's not his own and starts getting accommodated rather quickly, mirroring Downey's previous legal troubles. And throwing away the concept that Monaghan and Downey's characters are supposed to be only two years apart in age and not looking that whatsoever (God, Downey looks like Monaghan's cool uncle more than anything else), their performances in the film are all pretty good. Even at the end, when Downey's character starts performing some action scenes, it's not too far from the realm of possibility.
This is another title in the slowly but surely growing Warner library of standard and HD DVD combination discs. I looked at some scenes on both and noticed the improved detail on the HD version (of course), but the thing that I'm starting to see more and more of is that the Warner discs seem to stray from their original aspect ratio. The standalone standard version of the film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and the HD titles are coming more and more in 2.35 or in this case, 2.40:1. I'm assuming this is being done so that Warner's interactive menus can pop up in the bottom of the screen, so one would hope that they don't diminish the artist's vision for the sake of video convenience.
What's a shame is that such a good movie can't be further enjoyed by a lot of extra material. Aside from a funny trailer and a gag reel where Black sounds like he threatens Kilmer to get a scene right, the only other extra is a commentary track with the stars and their director. Kilmer is surprisingly lively for this track as everyone discusses the film and enjoys pointing out little things in each scene, and he rhetorically asks how many names he drops during the commentary. To put it another way, Downey must have been looking at Kilmer and wondering why he was doing this stoned, as Kilmer sounded like a cross between Marlon Brando and Jiminy Glick. They all take their time and watch the film (without providing comments), but in Kilmer's case, that may have been a good thing. Overall, the track is more joking than actual substance, so you can probably skip it.
At times, Downey's dialogue made the film sound as if it was too smart for the room. Downey's narration was designed to break the fourth wall and bring the viewer into the picture, but at times, the cynicism directed at the story (when it compared itself to similar detective films) came across as a bit hackneyed.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is quite the enjoyable little film featuring a couple of actors that are attempting to regain some former glory from years past. I'd hesitate to call it the Tough Guys of 2005, but it's a good mix of dark humor and enough action sequences so that it doesn't completely bore the viewer. And don't worry about the awful language in the film; Kilmer apologizes for it at the end.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is perfect for those who don't normally watch noir films but may enjoy this modern filmgoer's introduction to the genre. Its humor is consistently funny and the stars' performances are entertaining without being transparently slapstick. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Director Shane Black and Actors Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.
* Gag Reel
* Official Site
* Original DVD Verdict Review