A good movie review always starts with a really lame play on words involving the title. I am the king of really lame plays on words. Here’s mine for today: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang kicks-kicks ass-ass. Hearty laugh. Move along. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer star, Shane Black writes and directs.
Shane Black created the action film as it exists today. You may not consider that much of an achievement, but, just like every other genre, action movies can be done really well and really, really poorly. Shane Black has always been a writer who did action movies really well. Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight are all films written by Black. They feature clever dialogue, creative action and inconsistent direction.
Lethal Weapon, if you recall, is the movie that invented a lot of what are now action clichés. Watching it again it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t unoriginal, it was THE original. It sets up many of today’s most frequent action mechanisms: One black cop, one white cop, (an unlikely duo) are forced by events beyond their control to investigate a case together. Soon they’ve uncovered a vast and explosive conspiracy that threatens the very fabric of… whatever. Although they don’t always get along, they have snappy conversations and earn each other’s respect. Soon enough there’s a huge fight scene, good guy kills the bad guy, gets the girl, gravy.
I’ll be the first to criticize formulaic filmmaking like Steven Sommers and Steven Spielberg (The evil Stevens. The good ones are Soderbergh and McQueen), but Mr. Black always mixes things up. Through Robert Downey Jr.’s movie conscious narration, Black pokes fun at the conventions of the action movie, several of which he created. In one scene Robert Downey Jr. and his main love interest in the film, Michelle Monaghan, are reminiscing about a set of old Dashiell Hammett-like novels that recur throughout the film. They just happen to mention that at the end of each novel the hero is always tortured and then kills like sixteen guys. Of course as Kiss Kiss develops, this is exactly what Downey Jr. is forced to do.
In addition to the customary witty banter between Val Kilmer and Downey Jr, Mr. Black employs a new dimension-Black Humor. An instant classic is the scene in which Downey Jr’s character accidentally pisses on a corpse and then is forced to explain himself. Also new to the Shane Black experience is a small budget. When Lethal Weapon hit in ’87 the Hollywood establishment was so impressed that Shane Black has been pretty prohibitively expensive ever since. So any movie that could afford “The Shane Black” was a huge budget movie. This time around, with Black directing, it’s a more intimate affair. More dialogue, less explosions.
This is destined to be a forgotten classic. It’s worth a little extra work to find.