Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

kiss kiss bang bang

“Don’t worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I’m not going to end this 17 times.”

The Scoop: 2005 R, directed by Shane Black and starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan

Tagline: A bad week in a tough town.

Summary Capsule: It’s film noir lite mixed with a little Ferris Bueller


Justin’s rating: Despite the title, James Bond is nowhere to be found

Justin’s review: There are a few realms in which you can faithfully expect Hollywood to go bananas with self-indulgence — the L.A./Hollywood scene, film noir and biopics. These are the types of films which open to enthusiastic applause at Cannes and a whole lot of shoulder-shruggin’ everywhere else. I don’t know why; possibly because they scream “Look at me! We’re oh so very important and full of clever repartee and meta-subcontextual homages!”? It’s sort of like a little girl dressing up in her mommy’s clothes, smearing makeup all over her face, and expecting you to find it cute… for the 544th time. Then they throw tantrums as their films bomb and Middle America turns out in droves to see White Chicks instead. Not defending Middle America’s odd obsession with the Wayans brothers, but Hollywood? Who cares about your attempts to film you pleasuring yourself?

Other than you, of course.

Thus I’ve admitted to you my long-standing feud with Hollywood over these craptacular movies, winning “Sundance” this or that, and mostly failing to keep my attention to the 2 hr. 25 min. running time where some tri-sexual lumberjack plastic surgeon tries to break into the movie making industry. It was almost a miracle that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang charmed me instead of urgently sending me into the restroom for a mano a mano with the toilet.

After all, here you have yet another little independent piece of flotsam which stars a couple well-known stars (Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.) trying to “get back to their roots of acting”, which is a kind translation of “we’re so yesterday and we actually have to audition for indie flicks just to get a job.” It takes place on the L.A. scene (sigh) with plenty of making-movie references (sigh) and opportunities to show how very shallow the showbiz industry is while at the same time trying to make us covet the lifestyle (huh?).

Petty thief Harry (Downey) evades the law by stumbling into an audition room for a movie, where he gives a surprisingly spot on performance (as a criminal). This nets him a possible role in the film, where he is tasked with taking acting lessons from private detective Gay Perry (Kilmer), who is not exactly gay in the happy sense. Because film noir has to enter into the scene from the second we hear the words “private detective” and “voice over narration,” the pair stumble onto a complex plot of murder, deception, manipulation and mysterious women.

Except that it really isn’t very complex, nor interesting enough to endure for a second time around.

Remember my frothing anger about self-indulgence? The worst case for this is in KKBB where Harry gives a halting narration over a third of the film. For one thing, and not to take a cheap shot, Downey sounds completely stoned doing it — no life in it whatsoever. For another, the whole film is contrived to be winking at the audience, as Harry acknowledges that he’s in a movie and how they’re going to try to avoid the clichés of one while still doing them anyway. Movies-within-movies are officially old, dead and decaying somewhere six feet below the surface of my believability.

Even so, there’s a subtle aftertaste of a good film here. Harry and Perry have a quirky dynamic between them, and film noir done smartly and with some humor is often worth a watch. There’s a bit with a severed finger that is simultaneously amusing and repulsive, the balance of which is sustained over a couple scenes and makes a good point for directorial talent by not letting it swing to either extreme. And you do want to know the answer to the mystery(s) of the movie, even though the big reveal is among the dumbest explanations I’ve ever seen. I really want to spoil it for you, but I shan’t. Let’s just say that Hollywood knows absolutely nothing about religion.

Thus, back to Middle America I go, where cheap matinees are common even when no director comes out to shoot movies in Indianapolis, Lexington, or Boise. The steak nachos here are excellent, I hope you know.

Kyle’s rating: Just like a great Avril Lavigne song; take that as you (personally) might

Kyle’s review: Except for the part about going “mano a mano with the toilet” (?) I understand where Justin is coming from in his review of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I don’t necessarily agree with his assessment(s), but I also recognize that until you’ve lived in the philosophically corrupt (see: most films set in Los Angeles) yet ultimately transcendentally beautiful (see: LA Story) region known officially as “southern California,” it’s hard to understand how it can support every type of story known to man, and then some.

I’ve been here for so long, save for occasional trips to Hawaii or Colorado or Chicago and more frequent trips to Las Vegas, that I’ve honestly forgotten what it was like elsewhere. But here, the kind of self-referential dark humor and sexually-charged comedy and sexually-charge drama Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has to offer is exactly what we’re all looking for every hour of the day, in a world-weary and ‘too much secondhand smoke’ kind of way. Essentially, if you dug the Lethal Weapon movies but wanted all humor and less suicidal angst, this is what you need. Those seeking Mel Gibson nudity should stick to your existing DVD collections, please.

I often bring up Kiss Kiss Bang Bang along with Brick when I recommend it to people. Both are tremendous films that pretty much everyone has heard of but that very few have actually seen, since they were on scant handful of movie screens when they were released. I had to drive out to Santa Monica one random Saturday when I learned a theater on the promenade had Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for a weekend, and I hoped it would at least be worth the price of gas.

It definitely was. It still, even now. Robert Downey Jr. + Val Kilmer + hot chick + weird post-modern metaphysical-in-a-typically-California-shallow-way take on classic detective stories = instant classic!

Brick gets the nod for ‘best film,’ based on a deeper complexity at its core, a wider and phenomenal cast, and a start-to-finish dedication to maintaining its tone and unique dialogue kinks that never fails. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a first hour or so that is heavy on the narration and full of storytelling quirks, and once everything from the humor to the mystery is established it sort of drops the cinematic garnish and solves the mysteries. It’s not that it flounders or drops off; it just shifts down into a leaner storytelling, quite necessarily and effectively, but in a way that by comparison makes you appreciate Brick‘s complete package even more.

I’m talking Kiss Kiss Bang Bang right now, though, and if I wasn’t lazy and had gotten around to reviewing this gem first, it would certainly have higher Mutant Meter numbers across the board. Downey and Kilmer are at their charming best, and Michelle Monaghan pops up on the radar with a very impressively assured performance that makes the most of her acting and her body (she gives much the same performance in Mission: Impossible III but it’s hard to care about it, since that movie was darn forgettable). Across the board, the “hey, I know him/her from ___!” cast is in it to win it and performs admirably, but beyond the impeccable casting it truly is Shane Black’s winning script and direction that gives the film that amazing verve. It’s like all the cool elements of the ‘buddy cops’ action films of the late ’80s and entire ’90s distilled and whipped together with a comically noir mystery and ‘so hot right now’ men of action who aren’t quite as “of action” as you’d expect, though they’ll come through when it counts.

This film doesn’t quite go off like you’d expect, but it’s definitely thrilling and entertaining. If you’ve ever skateboarded and then hung out at the beach in your skater duds, carrying your board and winking at the girls like the counterculture rebel you are while simultaneously dispassionately deconstructing the entire day in your head via a nonchalant yet bitingly sarcastic inner monologue, that’s a lot like what it’s like to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So if such an endeavor sounds even remotely “cool” to you, I think you’d get happy watching this one. But don’t smoke, kids!

Okay, THIS is one of the best screen grabs of all time.
Okay, THIS is one of the best screen grabs of all time.


  • Val Kilmer had to quickly lose the 50 pounds gained for his plump role in Oliver Stone’s Alexander in order to play his fit GQ character for this film.
  • As a sign of support to Robert Downey Jr.’s recovery from alcohol and drugs, Val Kilmer refused to drink during the entire production.
  • Gay Perry’s cell phone ring tone is “I will survive”.
  • Shane Black read several stories by Raymond Chandler when writing this script. As a result, the story is divided into chapters and the chapter titles come from Chandler works.
  • Harmony’s baseball bat has the inscription “Wonder Girl”. This is a reference to the inscription “Wonder Boy” in Robert Redford’s bat in The Natural.
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? At the end of the movie, Val Kilmer says not to leave; to stay and watch the credits; and if you’re wondering who the Best Boy is, he’s someone’s nephew.

Groovy Quotes

Harry: This is every shade of wrong.

Harry: Don’t worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I’m not going to end this 17 times.

B-Movie Actress: So what do you do?
Harry: I’m retired, I invented dice. What do you do?

Bear on TV Ad: I’m for Genaro’s, but then, what do I know? I’m a bear. I suck the heads off of fish.

Perry: So she comes to the door and she is totally nude, from head to toe. And she leads me inside and I sit down, right? Well, then she sits right on my lap.
Harry: Really? That happened?
Perry: No. Idiot.

Harry: I swear to God, it’s like somebody took America by the East Coast, and shook it, and all the normal girls managed to hang on.

Perry: Do not play detective. This is not a book. This is not a movie.

Perry: Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.

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