In 2005, Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer were an unlikely pair to be headlining a film together. Downey Jr. was in the early stages of his comeback from years struggling with drug addiction, and Kilmer’s casting as a camp private eye seemed at odds with his reputation as a difficult and intense presence on set.
But put them with first-time director, and writer of Lethal Weapon, Shane Black, and you have one of the most delicious films of the last decade.
Based in part on the book Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a neo-noir that comes complete with fast dialogue, an almost incomprehensible plot, and lots of corpses. Rather than being a Tarantino-style blood bath, however, Black’s film is a wildly hilarious farce.
Harry Lockheart (Downey Jr.) is in L.A. – a fantastical city at the best of times – for a screen test, after accidentally crashing into a film audition and impressing the casting agents. At a party he is introduced to ‘Gay’ Perry van Shrike (Kilmer), a private detective who has been recruited to give Lockheart some experience of the profession for Lockheart’s film role. Not long after they meet, Lockheart is embroiled in two murder cases and the bodies begin to pile up.
Black delights in taking reality, smashing it and throwing the distorted pieces back in your face. Lockheart, our narrator, can rewind or fast forward the film to refine his story, and ends the film with a straight-to-camera epilogue thanking us for watching. Downey Jr.’s quick delivery is perfect for Black’s smart dialogue, and his bemused expression throughout all the hi-jinks makes the bizarre turn of events even more entertaining. Next to Downey Jr., Kilmer is clearly having a blast as Gay Perry, always ready to bring a healthy dose of rationality to the situation. The often underrated Michelle Monaghan completes the unfortunate trio as Lockheart’s beautiful and intelligent childhood sweetheart.
You may not be able to follow the plot, but that’s not really the point. Just let the beauty of L.A., bathed in Michael Barrett’s glowing cinematography, and the glorious madness wash over you, and enjoy the ride. After all, with a film that includes a drunken robot, Elvis and urinating on corpses, it was never really going to make a lot of sense.
Wrriten by Hannah McCarthy