Monday 10 August 2015

Movie Review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

A convoluted neo-noir aiming for a hip comic vibe, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang trips all over its attitude and fails to find a soul in the tale of multiple murders set among the Hollywood set.

Harry (Robert Downey Jr) is a petty thief who crashes an audition while escaping the police. He is mistaken for a method actor with talent and ends up at a swanky Los Angeles pool party at the house of retired actor Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bernsen). Harry reconnects with childhood crush Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), and meets private investigator Perry (Val Kilmer), with Perry ostensibly hired to help Harry prepare for an acting role as a detective.

Harry rides along with Perry on a seemingly routine nighttime surveillance assignment that ends with the two of them witnessing a car flying into a lake with the body of dead woman inside. Soon after, Harmony's sister is reported to have committed suicide, but Harmony believes that she may have been murdered. Harmony thinks that Harry is an actual detective and wants him to investigate. Harry and Perry soon find themselves threatened, tortured and embroiled in a sordid familial dispute, as the body-in-the-lake suddenly resurfaces and links emerge between the cases of the two dead women.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang races ahead in search of a cool buzz, but in doing so, the film leaves behind essential elements needed to engage. The characters are introduced in the most cursory manner, and none are anywhere near likeable. To make matters worse, bad things happen to irrelevant people. For the longest time, the dead woman in the lake is an unknown victim. When her identity is revealed, she is no more interesting. And Harmony's sister is dead before she is even introduced. The lack of empathy for any of the characters, dead or alive, becomes a gaping black hole undermining the film's appeal.

Much of the fault lies in the script by Shane Black, best known for penning Lethal Weapon, and here also taking over directing duties for the first time. Black has clear intentions to create a relatively comic film noir packed with irony and irreverence to catch a young audience. It's an admirable goal, but the mix is not quite right. The best moments, such as Harry finding the dead woman's corpse in his bathroom, work more as almost outright comedy, punching holes in any pretense that this could also be a grim drama. Meanwhile, Harry's narration is most unhelpful. Black intentionally aims to make the narrative as complex as possible in a nod to impossible-to-follow classics like The Big Sleep. But Harry's narration, rather than building a sense of cynical frustration, is irritatingly smug.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is left with loads of style devoid of substance, and reasonable performances from a willing cast. Downey Jr. deploys his vaguely puzzled persona to good effect, and is ably supported by a more-engaged-than-usual Val Kilmer. Michelle Monaghan is game but not helped by a character that gets caught in the wide gulf between potential femme fatale and madcap comedienne. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang takes a few shots, mostly misses, and lands with a disappointing clang.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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