By Jack Sommers
from Cambridge, England
, 27 Nov 2005
Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is the directorial debut and return from a long screenwriting hiatus of Shane Black, whose screenplay for Lethal Weapon invented the buddy-pic genre. Later efforts, such as The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, solidified his reputation as a master of the straight action one. Apart from a couple of films since with similar themes but shorter shelf-lives, Black has been completely absent from the film scene. In Hollywood, successes are quickly forgotten. He returns now with KKBB, which makes you wonder why he was ever sent into exile.
KKBB stars Robert Downey Jr. as a down-and-out small time thief. While fleeing the police, he accidentally stumbles into a film audition and is cast. He is flown to LA for filming. His training for the role consists of accompanying Gay Perry (Val Kilmer on excellent form), an equally small time PI. They soon witness a body being dumped and become embroiled in a murder investigation. So begins the whole shooting and bleeding thing.
What singles it out from the other entries on Blacks CV is its humour. Snappy, witty dialogue has always been one of his trademarks but here, sitting in the Directors chair, hes able to give it a much more prominent place. Downeys character doubles as narrator who uses post-modern techniques to gets laughs with great effect. The pairing of Kilmer and Downing is much further from cliché than other buddy pics. The chemistry between them on-screen is hilarious and unrelenting. It reminds us, in case wed forgotten him in Chaplin or Wonder Boys, that Downey is a sensational comic actor. Comedy is more or less unexplored territory for Kilmer, but he carries himself very well. This is more than the simple funnyman/straightman formula, as both characters shine throughout with one-liners aplenty.
Its also a lot less clichéd with its narrative. In the style of Pulp Fiction, the film is divvied into vignettes, not always in chronological order. Its self-referential and very aware of how stylish it is. Its sure to please the Art School crowd because of it but it also gives regular film-goers an extra dimension to the typical action movie to chew on.
This approach is very enjoyable but is employed a bit disjointedly. Towards the beginning, Downeys voiceover accompanies many scenes and the beginning of a new vignette is announced on screen regularly. In its middle, these devices are eschewed and the film settles into a more standard sequence of events people running around shooting like in normal action films. This inconsistency is noticeable but doesnt detract from your enjoyment. Relapsing into safer territory is forgivable as its in the interests of moving events along in the film. It does make it feel inconsistent overall but such mistakes are inevitable in any freshman filmmaker, especially one as excitedly watched by the film establishment as this.
Black can also be let off because the action scenes are superbly done. The sight of Downeys character hanging above an LA highway from the outstretched hand of a corpse in an open casket while shooting a pistol with his other hand is priceless. Blacks direction, like Tarintinos, can make the audience jump at the sight and sound of just a single gunshot. KKBB is a quirky, offbeat screenplay compared to other examples of the genre, but its shortcomings are always effectively masked by the excellent direction.
In spite of the stylistic influence of Pulp Fiction, the film has many sources for inspiration. The postmodern narrative draws heavily from film-noir, the plot from 50s detective stories. The action and love story are, in alignment with the titular parody, handled in a humorous way like in Blacks previous films that helped coin that cliché. Its eclecticism is pleasing and evident but the film feels like so much more than the sum of its influence. The Pulp Fiction analogy is appropriate but not definitive. The film doesnt reek of any cliché or any specific film thats gone before. Black has harvested his strengths and imported them to an otherwise fresh slate that doesnt build on the clichés he helped cement.
Simply put, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is excellent. What appears from the trailer to be little more than a predictable action yarn is in fact a great spin on the genre by one of its great warhorses. Its range of influences, combination of humour and pathos and the enthralling direction combine to make a film that certainly deserved its high profile place at this years London Film Festival. The industry has given a lot of backing to Blacks return. With this as his product, he does so much more than merely meet expectations.
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