Wednesday 20 September 2006

Wednesday 20 September 2006
CAST: Robert Downey Jr (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Dash Mihok (Mr Frying Pan) & Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw)

In the late-80s Shane Black was the most famous screenwriter on the planet -- no mean feat for a profession typically pushed into the background, despite being the creative cornerstone of the filmmaking industry. His scripts for Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout (1991) were celebrated action genre fare, but his success faltered with Last Action Hero (1993) and sputtered to a halt with the failure of The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).

Now, after a decade in the Hollywood wilderness, Black is back. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a noir detective story set in L.A about small-time crook Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr), who accidentally stumbles into a film auditon while trying to escape the law, and finds himself cast in a film. From here, Harry is told to research his new role by shadowing a homosexual private eye called Gay Perry (Kilmer), which leads him to childhood sweetheart Harmony (Monaghan) and into a web of murder and intrigue...

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a resolutely entertaining movie. Black wrote himself a brilliant screenplay to direct, dripping with wit and energy. This is a polished gem of a storyline, balancing witty comedy and action with immaculate grace. It helps that the movie is pure cinema, with kinetic camerawork and some beautifully composed sequences (quite an amazing piece of work considering this is Black's directorial debut!) The movie is wonderfully narrated by Harry and the voice-over is used brilliantly to inform and entertain in equal measure.

There's a gleeful sense of fun that permeates the film, with the mystery woven around dozens of memorable moments and clever character exchanges. Black is a master at subverting audience expectation, with practically every scene taking an unexpected turn or humorous twist. Of particularly delight is Harry Lockhart accidentally urinating on a corpse that has been smuggled into his bathroom and having to explain this to Perry, a scene where Harry challenges someone to a fight in full-on bad-ass mode (only to be humiliatingly beaten up), or the moment Harry's finger is cut off by a slammed door and later fed to a dog. These moment all sound like skits from a Farrelly Brothers movie, but Black treats them all with tongue-in-cheek seriousness and the actors all underplay the comedy to perfection.

Robert Downey Jr is an actor most famous for his hedonistic personal life than his movie work these days, but he's forever turning in superb performances between prison sentences. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang marks another highlight in his chequered career, although he's effectively playing the cheeky smart-mouthed rogue you associate with him. Regardless, he's a bundle of energy and oozes screen charisma.

Val Kilmer, an actor that disappeared into the same wilderness as Black post-Batman Forever, also makes a significant return to form. Kilmer is great as Gay Perry, never giving in to stereotype and crafting a believable character who just happens to be gay. His repartee with Downey Jr is also a core reason for the film's success, with both actors clearly relaxed in each other's presence and confident with the script.

Michelle Monaghan, on this evidence, is surely an actress on the precipice of the mainstream success Mission Impossible III didn't give her in 2006. As Harmony, she's believable, gutsy, kooky and a confident actress able to hold her own against the more established leads. She succeeds magnificently in a role that would usually have been written as a titillating cliche.

As you can no doubt tell, the sole reason for this movie's success is Shane Black himself. The actors are all talented performers, but it's through Black's ear for snappy dialogue and characterisation that they find their voice. With a script this good, and a director clearly enjoying fooling around with established film convention, everything else just slots neatly into place.

Told in novel-like "chapters", all named after Ray Bradbury literature ("Farewell, My Lovely", "The Simple Art Of Murder", etc), Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is confident filmmaking performed by on-form actors. There is never a dull moment as the mystery bubbles along happily and keeps you hooked until its blistering finale. As the credits roll you can't help hoping for more advenures with Harry and Perry...


The DVD release of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has quite stylish case artwork, but it's perhaps a bit too ambivalent for general buyers. The menu screens are competent and fast-loading, but nothing special.

PICTURE: The 2.20:1 widescreen anamorphic picture is gerat, but slightly too soft. Black plays with the medium quite a bit in the film, saturating colours and altering the look numerous times, but the disc copes well. The images are well-definited with zero grain or other artifacts.

SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent for range and impact, with plenty of effects spitting from the speakers. The spread of audio across the speakers is very good and nicely balanced. Dialogue is well handled and this is overall a good transfer.


Commentary: The most substantial bonus item is an audio commentary with Kilmer, Downey, and Black. It's most notable for the fact Kilmer is constantly teased about the fact the movie is supposed to be a comedy-thriller, as his comments take everything far too seriously.

Gag Reel: This runs for 4 minutes and is of moderate interest, and a Theatrical Trailer completed the package.

Overall, this is a very disappointing release in terms of extra features, but the movie transfer is good and almost an essential purchase for fans of well-made comedy-action thrillers.