I discovered Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) by accident. I was drowning one day in my Tumblr dashboard, and I spotted a .gif image of Robert Downey, Jr. crouched in a bathroom on a cell phone in panic. The caption read vaguely about “peeing on a corpse,” and he was worried that the police could trace it back to him. When I finished laughing, I spent the next few hours tracking down which film the clip was snagged from–Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Harry: I peed on it.
Perry: What? You peed on what?
Harry: I peed on the corpse. Can they do, like, ID from that?
Perry: I’m sorry, you peed on…?
Harry: On the corpse. My question is…
Perry: No, my question, I get to go first: Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?
Harry: I didn’t intend to! It’s not like I did it for kicks!
The film is a happy blend of neo-noir, dark comedy, and the crime movie genres. It reflects each in a ‘fingers-crossed’ behind its back sort-of-way, never committing to any seriously while simultaneously paying homage to all. The plot is a ball of yarn you’re tangled in, and when you think you’ve raveled it, the ball rolls down the stairs. Its sober moments are defused by frequently adjacent hilarity, pitch-perfect dialogue, and magnificent parody.
[Mild Spoilers Below]
Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.), narrates the film, which begins with a bungled burglary. When Harry’s friend is killed as they’re fleeing, he evades police pursuit in a random building. Auditions for an upcoming film are being held in the room he happens upon, and the script seems to resemble the tragic events of his current situation. His moving (real) performance is mistaken for ‘method-acting,’ and the impressed producers book him as a potential actor for the part. At a pre-screen test party in Hollywood, he meets “Gay” Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer), a Private Investigator, who has been hired by the producers of the film to help Harry research his role. When a corpse and a childhood crush make a sudden appearance in Harry’s life, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang quickly becomes a crime film worth watching.
Lets discuss its noir merits with the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The setting of the film is primarily the Los Angeles and Hollywood areas near Christmas time; Posh parties, swanky mansions, and luxury hotel rooms serve as the backdrop for devious deeds.
2) The Anti-Hero
Harry and Perry are explosive onscreen. Their chemistry is contagious, and their timing and delivery is an ode to a lost era of film (Neil Simon, Murder by Death). Typical “buddy cop” movie cliches are addressed then destroyed, and I was left rolling in the aftermath. At his core, Harry is a romantic, but he’s also a man chewed-up by his previous marriage. When the opportunity arrives to impress his childhood sweetheart, Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), he creates a lie that could work.
3) The Femme Fatale
Harmony plays the femme fatale in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. She’s the dame that Harry will risk everything for, and the audience knows it, but she’s oblivious. Her history is complicated, her stake is great, and the odds are bad–but Harry knows she’s a damsel he’ll save.
The film had an interesting angle of misogyny that I hadn’t expected because it was aimed at Gay Perry. Because of his sexual orientation, the men in the supporting cast are threatened by him (except Harry). The threat causes them to attack and react harshly in many scenarios, pushing Perry back or relegating him socially. I was fascinated to see that misogynists struggle to define a homosexual; they don’t want to treat him like a woman or a man, so they don’t treat him like a human being.
A central motive for Harry is the lost chance he had for romance as children with Harmony. It drives him to lie to her about his vocation. He tells her that he’s a private eye like Perry in order to close the gap between them. He hopes to ignite something in her that he’s been sheltering for years. If she’ll share the flame, he’ll be redeemed.
Most of the eroticism in the film is snuffed by situational comedy–not that I’m complaining, but there isn’t a lot of it. I felt that the most compelling moments of the film were when Harry’s feelings for Harmony were transparent. You ache for him because he really loves her, and it’s beyond the selfish reach of simple lust.
7) Loss of Innocence
[SPOILER] Harry shoots and kills a goon named Mustard, and his reaction is surprising because of its authenticity. He’s deeply affected by it. Main characters in films rarely react to killing ‘a bad guy’ anymore. I was refreshed by RDjr’s treatment of the event– he made it real, and he brought us along with him.[END SPOILER] [.gifs (via mandawins.tumblr.com)]
8 ) Smoke
I honestly can’t remember if there was cigarette smoking in the film or not. I’m assuming yes, because everything else was there. The relic of old noir that was most apparent was the narration style. Harry recounts the events of the story as they’re happening, and he hangs grim metaphors on each.
I’ve gotta go back to Gay Perry. He’s actually the least immasculated character in the film, even though he’s threatened with it incessantly. He’s collected and confident, a well-dressed man who’s self possessed in a way that renders him immune to verbal assault. Perry is the immasculator, not the immasculated.
I know that every noir lover will do one thing after they see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang–you’ll look online for the “Johnny Gossamer” books. Tragically, they are a fake book series created for the film. Robert McGinnis lent his fabulous talent for the risque pulp covers– you can see them here. (NSFW). SOMEONE MAKE THEM REAL, PLEASE.
Please watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), it’s a particularly delicious neo-noir crime movie.
Why not sign up for the LOVEFiLM free trial. You can watch free movies online including many of the classics of the film noir genre as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang!
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