Christmas Movie #3: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Today we have more Christmas goodness, the tale of a hapless loser who finds love, happiness, and murder over the course of Christmas in L.A.  There will be no RPG update this weekend, but there will be the final Christmas movie review.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the story of a low grade thief (Robert Downey Jr.) who avoids the long arm of the law by accepting an acting job on the other side of the country. He is a fish out of water, bringing his New York charm to Los Angeles. To prepare for his role as a detective he is attached to a real detective (Val Kilmer) and together they encounter a real murder. A beautiful girl comes along and despite all warnings to the contrary and his utter lack of competency he sets out to help the girl.

Part of what makes all this work is the heart of the movie. At its core it is a noir film, complete with the required characters and settings. The image above is one of the most powerful noir moments in the film and it never avoids referencing hallmarks of the genre. However this movie does not function like a noir, instead it views those traditions from the perspective of modern society. It turns those conventions on their side, partly via Val Kilmer’s character who describes being a detective as boring work. He is a competent man of the modern day, but he gets his jobs over the phone and usually ends up tailing cheating husbands.

But rather than mocking the genre that bred it, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang instead suggests what would happen if those elements occurred today. This makes the film every bit as in-depth and strong a story as any before it, but it is filled with self referential wit and sharp dialogue from more modern fare. The film is narrated by Downey’s character, and while not an unreliable narrator he is defiantly a spastic one jumping from point to point, and stumbling over them as he goes.

The casting is also top notch, specifically Downey and Kilmer. Downey brings an affable charm to his role along with a somewhat outdated sense of honor. We are made to like him, even though we are introduced to him as not only a crook, but a nearly useless one at that. He comes across as that guy, the one you know who has charm, personality, and talent but seems to lack the right environment to actually let him be a useful member of society. This movie is his environment.

Val Kilmer plays “Gay” Perry, a tracksuit wearing modern age private eye. He is smooth, professional, and competent; in his own way he is the exact opposite of Downey’s character. He has all the skills to succeed and has done so, but he lacks the provocation to actually be a worthwhile person and the entrance of Downey gives him this. I have heard reports that Val Kilmer is a difficult man to work with, but from his performance here I believe any trouble encountered is worth it; viewing the gag reel on the DVD makes me question those claims outright. The antagonistic friendship between these two men comes across strongly and the movie glows for it.

I must also mention Michelle Monaghan as the requisite attractive woman asking for help, and based on looks alone she is more than attractive enough to fulfill the role. However she is far more than that, becoming the driving force of the movie, even stepping up to drag the boys out of trouble. She gets to play the kind of woman you wish you knew, the woman who is everything in the world, and completely worth dying for.

I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It is funny, engaging, well written, acted, and scored. It brings the best of the past and present and gives them to you in a lovely little package. It is on my top ten list of favorite movies and I had to put it in Christmas movie territory simply so I would watch it less. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang gets a 5/5.

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2 thoughts on “Christmas Movie #3: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

  1. You actually saw this with me and Jill when we were desperate for something to rent and watch. I think it was between this and some Vin Diesel movie where he played an attorney (spoiler: we made the right choice).

    I think the best thing about this movie is how they make a claim to being “boring” then stumble upon a real crime, then pretend for a moment some drastic, larger conspiracy has happened, then drumming it down to something normal. Sometimes not in that order.

    Good stuff.

  2. You and Jill also tried to kill me with Bookers that night. A delicious death.

    I also love how this movie gets pretty epic near the end. And also the fact that it does bounce between normal and epic, but considering all the crazy everyday things going on how can they ever decide what is truely ‘normal’.

    I actually have the DVD right next to me and i’m trying to decide if I should watch it now or tomorrow.

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