38 Things We Learned From the ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ Commentary

The Avengers hits theaters this Friday, but we’re looking to the future. The not-too-distant future but further out than this coming Friday. May 3, 2013, to be precise, when Iron Man 3 hits. Naturally, it stars Robert Downey Jr., still the comeback kid whose A-list status may as well be written in Adamantium. But it’s also being written and directed by Shane Black, the amazing screenwriter who brought us Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad, The Last Boyscout, and this week’s film on Commentary Commentary, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was Black’s debut as a director, and it’s arguably his best piece of work in 25 years.

This week we’re listening to what Black and Downey Jr. have to say about this “indie” action/comedy. Val Kilmer joins the commentary party, too, because any party with Kilmer is better than any party without him. He just loves to drop names, as is indicated by this very bit of audio. With these three in the room together, talking about this very entertaining film, you know a healthy dose of fun is about to be had. So here you have it. All 38 things we learned listening to the commentary for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Commentators: Shane Black (writer, director), Robert Downey Jr. (actor), Val Kilmer (actor), more dropped names from Kilmer than can physically be counted

  • Kilmer starts right off, introducing himself as Robert Downey Jr. and asking what’s up with the Warner Brothers logo. “They’re underwater, but it’s from an aerial, so…someone help me,” he says. Black mentions it’s okay to wait through the credits before starting in with the commentary. “You don’t have to do the first thing they show on the screen,” he says. Less than a minute in, Kilmer apologizes for the commentary thus far.
  • The kid using the chainsaw in the opening minutes of the film was, as Black explains, a “stunt kid.” Evidently, you have to be in a union to be able to use a chainsaw in film. Someone else might have had a similar issue, but they didn’t mention it.
  • 2:30 – Kilmer mentions he’s having a contest with the commentary wherein he will begin dropping names. He will drop names of celebrities throughout the commentary, and the first person to contact him with the exact number of names dropped wins a prize, which is specified later in the commentary as $500. Not a minute goes by without him throwing out a name of an actor, actress, or filmmaker. As we’ve mentioned above, there are too many to count, so we’re not even going to try. But good luck with the contest. It might still be open for a potential winner. “Meanwhile some of the most important contributors to the film’s title cards have gone by while you’re jagging off over there,” says Downey Jr. It’s that kind of rapport that makes this whole commentary so much fun.
  • The chapter titles throughout the film, “Trouble is My Business,” “The Lady in the Lake,” “The Little Sister,” “The Simple Art of Murder,” and “Farewell, My Lovely,” are all named after Raymond Chandler novels and stories. Evidently, Black couldn’t find room for “Professor Bingo’s Snuff,” but there’s always the sequel.
  • Apparently, the three were watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in a theater with excellent sound. At one point early in the film, a UPS truck drives by, causing a rumbling. Downey Jr. comments on the sound quality, but Kilmer takes this as a cue for a name drop. “That’s what it sounded like every day when I worked with Marlon Brando,” he says. “Every day he would just rumble.”
  • The cop who busts in on Harry’s audition can also be seen as an extra in another role later in the film. He was an extra on set, but Black mentions he got the line at the beginning, because the original actor couldn’t deliver the line as desired.
  • Richard Grieco is in the film as one of the people at the party seen early in the film. His part was significantly cut, but Black mentions about four frames are still in the film. It’s the best work Grieco has done since If Looks Could Kill.
  • Kilmer mentions he wants some more seared tuna followed by a minute-long break in the commentary. Apparently, this commentary was catered, which is probably more common than you think, but the actors don’t have a habit of bringing it up. That Val Kilmer sure likes to talk about the food perks of being an actor.
  • During the moment in the party scene where Harry is getting pummeled by another guy at the party, Kilmer asks Black if it was based on a real event where the writer/director pissed someone off and proceeded to get beaten in an alley. “Not in an alley,” Black replies. “In Denny’s,” jokes Kilmer.
  • The “lookalike game” Downey Jr. and Michelle Monaghan play at the bar was written in the screenplay with placeholders written in. Black mentions “Bald Kevin Costner” and “Black Patrick Swayze” as examples of these placeholders. When it came time to shoot the scene, he lined up all the extras and found the actors he wanted to us. “Native American Joe Pesci” and “Punk Rock Steven Seagal” were discovered this way.
  • Kilmer mentions an idea Downey Jr. gave him for one scene in particular that Black ended up cutting. “Thank God you were there,” says Downey Jr. to Black. “Thank God you wrote and directed it,” adds Kilmer with a hearty laugh. “If you’d written and directed it but not been there for this scene, the whole film would have been screwed,” Downey Jr. puts the stamp on it.
  • During the stakeout early on, Kilmer mentions Downey Jr. would turn to the plastic deer strewn throughout the yard between every take and yell, “Who sent you?!” That made Kilmer laugh and laugh and laugh.
  • The CG bear in the fake Genaros Beer ad is voiced by Laurence Fishburne.
  • “These headphones are creating a soft headed baby syndrome,” says Downey Jr. We can only assume he’s referring to the headphones he’s wearing while doing the commentary, but there’s no confirmation. He adjusts them, and all is right with the world.
  • Kilmer mentions he was thinking of Kevin Bacon in the moment when he and Downey Jr. have to kiss to divert attention from the police. “So I could get into it,” he explains. That Val Kilmer sure likes Kevin Bacon. Let’s be honest, though. He’s not alone.
  • Downey Jr. brags mentions that all of the scenes between he and Kilmer, even the scenes which are heavy with exposition, feel natural. Kilmer responds that he gets asked repeatedly if there was a lot of improvising with Black’s screenplay. There’s then a discussion about whether or not you can improvise the works of Shakespeare. “You know what, though,” says Black, “people who laugh at Shakespeare’s comedy, it’s all bullshit.” “God, I know. I hate people who read,” Kilmer replies.
  • Kilmer lectures Downey Jr. about cussing on the commentary, to which the future Iron Man responds, “If you’re children are watching a DVD commentary, that’s some Clockwork Orange shit going on.” Right in the middle of Downey Jr.’s response, Kilmer mentions the sequel to this film would be called Brokeback Bang Bang. Funny joke, but it couldn’t be more random. That’s Kilmer, though.
  • Downey Jr. mentions he has spoken to people who love every shot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. “Daryl Hannah loved every shot,” responds Kilmer. “Well maybe Daryl Hannah next time can buy two million tickets,” says Black.
  • Kilmer notes at one point that Downey Jr. convinces him every time he’s supposed to be high in this film. Can’t imagine how Downey Jr. would have that kind of performance down pat.
  • “It’s incidental, not to do with the film, but when you say, ‘In the day’, that day was a Wednesday. If you look it up, it was a Wednesday,” says Val Kilmer apropos to him being a fascinating lunatic. Did we mention we love Val Kilmer, because we do.
  • Black mentions Dash Mihok was a much bigger star before appearing in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. “Just like Robert and me,” Kilmer replies. Downey Jr. doesn’t say, “Speak for yourself, Valentine,” but he damn well could have.
  • 57:59 – Robert Downey Jr. farts into the microphone. “I’ve gotta work here,” says Kilmer, clearly disgusted. That’s basically Downey Jr.’s way of saying he’d like a smoke, because he calls for a break, and there’s a small pause in the commentary. As they’re walking off, Downey Jr. can be heard saying, “It smells like a baby farted in a pool.”
  • Kilmer points out during one shot, the one where Monaghan’s Harmony has just saved his character’s life and the two embrace, he forgot Gay Perry, his character, was a homosexual. You can see in the film he goes in for a quick kiss before backing off. “Okay, I’m gay,” he says, talking us through his mental process as an actor.
  • 1:02:24 – Downey Jr. asks Kilmer how the contest is going referring to the name dropping. Kilmer says good, that he thought he was over 40, but someone else in the room and his agent told him – probably during that fart-induced smoke break – he’s somewhere in the 30s. He then proceeds to randomly throw out Shirley Bassey’s name.
  • According to Black, audience members lose their attention span every 28 minutes and moments have to come in every half hour or so where they don’t have to pay close attention and are able to get focused again.
  • “The good thing is that, like most movies, the mattress is conveniently 2 1/2 feet above the floor unlike the other ones where I can’t get my fucking cat out from underneath,” says Downey Jr. during the scene where he’s hiding under a bed.
  • After the dog steals Harry’s severed finger, he is seen throughout the rest of the seen carrying it sticking out of his mouth. Black points out one shot where the finger is sticking out further than it should be and jokes that the dog had eaten Downey Jr.’s entire skeleton. “Because it was at the end of a Popsicle stick,” adds Downey Jr. Thankfully, in the remaining shots, the finger is jutting out the correct length. Never say a filmmaker isn’t his worst critic, because you would be dead wrong.
  • Black points out one of his ways for writing dialogue, how someone will be rambling, start to talk about one thing, and never finish the thought. Kilmer mentions this is something Black is great at, writing the way people really talk. He also notes Magnolia is another film that has rambling dialogue pulled off well. “Can we not direct people to other films while we’re talking about this one, Val?” asks Downey Jr. There’s then a minor debate between Kilmer and Black whether fewer people saw Magnolia or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. For the record, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang made $4.2m in the theaters, while Magnolia made $22.4m. Unless those tickets were $8m apiece, it sounds like more people saw Magnolia.
  • “You know, I have this mole on my jaw,” begins Kilmer. Yes, we’re aware of it. He had to grow a massive beard for Alexander, and, when he shaved it off, he caught the mole with the razor. It left a scab, and Kilmer mentions how often producer Joel Silver reminds him the amount of money they spent to digitally remove the scab. “Try to find it,” says Kilmer. “I’ll give you another $500.”
  • Kilmer asks Black if he can see the scenes as they play out in his head while he’s writing them. The simple answer to what Black says is no. He works to get the flow just right in the screenplay and then hopes it translates to the screen without much alteration. “Sometimes it takes too long once you film it…and you have to cut it,” he says. He mentions writing scenes is easy for him, but structuring an entire film, figuring out which scene goes after which, is where he has most difficulty. “And that’s where craft comes in, isn’t it?” asks Kilmer with the gruffest voice imaginable. “What do I know?” Black throws out. He only got paid $4m for the screenplay for The Long Kiss Goodnight, so evidently not a lot.
  • Throughout the commentary, Downey Jr. ribs Kilmer about reading his line. He suggests the lines were written on the inside of Kilmer’s sunglasses during one scene. It isn’t until late in the commentary when Kilmer reveals he asked for cue cards during the scene where his and Downey Jr.’s characters are interrogating the clinic guard. He does say he never used them, though. “What does Taco Tuesday have to do with the cue cards?” asks Black. “Because I ate some tacos and don’t remember eating them, and that’s what Robert is talking about,” Kilmer responds. Some of that makes sense.
  • “I would give $200,000 to have that shot cut out of the movie,” says Downey Jr. referring to his character’s reaction to getting his testicles electrocuted. He’s not serious, though, because he could actually afford that now.
  • Black mention they almost didn’t get the interrogation scene with Downey Jr. and Kilmer strapped to chair, because, when they initially set the scene up, the actors were duct taped down. He notes it looked stupid, and someone was sent out to get manacles. “Where did you get manacles at two in the morning?” asks Downey Jr. No response is given.
  • Kilmer asks Black why he made him wear a fat pad during his “death scene” on the bridge. Black mentions Kilmer was “the shit” when he was younger, but, in his 40s, he acquired an “executive paunch.” “I guess the stomach is filling up with blood,” notes Kilmer when the shot comes up. “I think that’s your tacos,” responds Black. Downey Jr. laughs at the thought of a “taco pad.”
  • “I could cry now, cause it’s almost over,” says Downey Jr. “Oh, no. We’ve got four endings.”
  • With eight minutes left in the film, Kilmer’s phone rings. He answers, saying it’s the most famous person he knows. It’s Joaquin Phoenix on the other end, and Kilmer quickly lets him go saying he’s doing a commentary.
  • “That’s not the guy from Saving Private Ryan, is it?” asks Black during the end scene between Kilmer and Harrison Young, who is the man who played older Private Ryan in the film’s beginning and end. “Shane, you’ve embarrassed all of us now,” jokes Kilmer. Downey Jr. jokes that he thought it was Matt Damon in prosthesis. Kilmer counts Damon among his dropped names.
  • “Shane, you keep writing, baby,” says Kilmer closing us out. He speaks for all of us.

Best in Commentary

“I want to remind you all that the person has already seen the film a couple of times and then the DVD at least twice before they turn this on. They’re not interested in the blow-by-blow of the film. It’s not why they’re listening.” -Val Kilmer, saying something everyone who sits down to do a commentary should adhere to.

“You’ve got that thing, Kilmer. The camera loves you.” -Robert Downey Jr.

“They always say, in every action movie or adventure/mystery, they say the villain is what makes the movie, but I always spend so much time on the protagonist I have no time left for the villain, so he’s always sketched in.” -Shane Black

“This scene works like a motherfucker.” -Robert Downey Jr.

“I wasn’t commenting, because I was bored.” -Val Kilmer in a very rare moment. For both of those statements.

Final Thoughts

Probably the most fun we’ve had putting one of these Commentary Commentary articles together, listening to Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr., and especially Val Kilmer talk about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a real joy. They bounce around quite a bit, but all three of these guys love being in a room together. There’s so much chemistry between them and ample amounts of charisma in each of them. It makes you realize just how much fun it would be just to hang out with any one of these guys.

It doesn’t matter that most of Kilmer’s contribution to the commentary is wrapped up in dropping names and feeding that silly contest he established early on. There was a consideration to write them all down here, but it really is a massive list of names, most of them seemingly being pulled from the air and fired out in rat-a-tat succession. The actor, along with Black and Downey Jr., adds so much entertainment this commentary, which also has nice moments of insight and anecdotes from working on the film. Here’s hoping the three get together for another commentary sometime down the line, hopefully for Brokeback Bang Bang, though a title change is expected.

Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives

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Jeremy's been writing about movies for a good, 15 years, starting with the film review column of his high school newspaper. He stands proud as the first person in his high school to have seen (and recommend) Pulp Fiction. Jeremy went on to get a B.A. in Cinema and Photography with a minor in journalism. His experience and knowledge of film is aided by the list of 6600 films he has seen in his life (so far). Jeremy's belief is that there are no bad films, just unrealized possibilities. Except Batman and Robin. That shit was awful.

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