Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I was lucky enough to catch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang in the theater during its all-to-short run. I’ve been waiting impatiently for the DVD ever since! Watching the movie the first time really caught me off guard and it’s just as pleasantly surprising on the small screen at home. I originally got excited due to the extreme lack of publicity that this “secret” Val Kilmer flick was getting. Kilmer’s low key projects seem to be some of his best work. Remember The Salton Sea? What I didn’t expect was to be blown away by an awesome story, incredibly fun (and funny!) dialogue, and fantastic performances by Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr., and a pre-MI:3 Michelle Monaghan!

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a murder mystery in the best old fashioned, pulp detective story sense possible. Taking that into consideration, I naturally can’t give away too much of the plot here. It should be sufficient, however, to say a few things. A guy makes his living as a petty thief on the east coast. One night, a job goes bad and he gets chased by cops. During the chase, he decides to duck into a building and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a movie audition. The thief aces the audition and immediately gets whisked away to the west coast to become a big star. The studio execs assign him to shadow one of L.A.’s finest private detectives in order to research his new part. After witnessing a murder, the detective, the struggling actress, and the thief (that’s pretending to be an actor that’s pretending to be a detective) must solve the mystery or they’ll end up dead.

Confused? I wouldn’t blame you. The “movie, within a movie, within a movie, wrapped in an enigma” would be incredibly hard to keep track of without the superb narration by Robert Downey Jr. as the thief. Not does the narration provide the glue that holds this convoluted story together, it’s exceptionally witty asides are the cherry on top of the delicious sundae that is Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It seems that Hollywood in general has become too afraid to use narration as a storytelling device these days. A good narration provided by one of the film’s main protagonists can be a great source for inside information about the character’s thoughts and motivations. I think it’s a terrible shame that this device isn’t used more often, but perhaps it is that very rarity which creates such a pleasant surprise when it is used.

The incredibly witty narration reflects the awesome dialogue and story penned by Lethal Weapon‘s Shane Black. The banter between characters is some of the best I’ve ever seen! The film includes a myriad of priceless lines that will be instantly to your repertoire of movie quotes. While remaining consistently funny, the dialogue also manages to stay realistic. I never got the impression that the characters were “too funny” or that people in the real world never would have come up with a comment like that. It’s also worth a special note that approximately every 20 minutes or so, something completely unexpected happens in the film. These “WTF?” moments constantly caught me by surprise, took the movie in an entirely new direction, and provided periodic reminders of just how fantastic this story was.

Although the best scripts can be easily ruined by bad acting, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has nothing to fear in that department. Val Kilmer nails his role as the private detective, Gay Perry. He provides the perfect foil for the thief played by Robert Downey Jr. Sometimes a run of bad roles or mediocre scripts can make me forget exactly how much I like certain actors, it has been a long time since Wonder Boys and The Salton Sea. This little film reminded me of the talent that these two stars can bring to bear when a good script actually calls for them to step up. Michelle Monaghan adds a fresh face and a little spice to the mix as the thief’s high school dream girl struggling to find an acting career in LA. Her performance as Cruise’s wife in MI:3 doesn’t showcase her talents near as well as this one, although that’s probably not her fault. I can easily see Tom Cruise saying “cut some of her lines so I can have more.”

Sadly, the only unfortunate experience about the Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang DVD experience is the actual DVD treatment itself. An exceptional movie is supported by nothing more than a mediocre outtake reel, the theatrical trailer, and a commentary track including Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr., and director Shane Black. Disappointed by the gag reel, I turned my hopes toward the commentary. I was initially excited to learn that the lead actors and the director were on the same track. That excitement didn’t last long when the seemingly tired voices began discussing the film or each other, but rarely pointing out anything truly interesting. From a film that cost a mere $15 million to make, only to make $4 million at the box office, it’s no wonder that there wasn’t a lot of surplus funds to make an amazing DVD. Although, I bet a better DVD would go pretty far to compensate for that box office loss. I think the only hope now is to rent or buy the movie, tell your friends about it, and hope for the inevitable special edition should this movie ever achieve the cult status it deserves.

Do I wish the DVD had some cooler features? Of course. Am I glad I bought it anyway? Hell yes! As always, the decision is ultimately up to you. If nothing else, it’ll make a damn good rental! I recommend Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang for anyone that appreciates good acting, better scripts, dark comedy, detective stories, and a movie packed with so much wit that it has to be seen twice just to catch all the jokes. I don’t suggest Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to people that like their detective stories serious and humor free, people that prefer low-intelligence humor, or anyone that’s too easily frustrated if they can’t keep up with the jokes.

The Upside:
Sarcastic, funny, smart, fast paced, surprising, and just plain fun!

The Downside:
Horrible DVD treatment. Seriously. If not for the loss in sound or picture quality, this movie might as well be on VHS!

On the Side:
The bear in the beer commercial is voiced by none other than Laurence Fishburne!

Making the Grade:
The Film: A
The Delivery: B
The Extras: D
Overall: B

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