Fast paced, hilarious and convoluted, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the movie to watch on a rainy day. Or any day, really. I had never seen it because the title didn’t pull me in. I still think it’s a weird one. I’ll just call it KKBB from now on. Maybe director Shane Black isn’t that good at titles, because his new movie The Nice Guys is also titled The Nice Guys. After seeing that wonderful movie at the theatre a few months ago, I figured that it was finally time to check out his earlier hit KKBB.
Featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer as a comical detective duo, I realized how much The Nice Guys actually tried to recreate the same atmosphere and camaraderie. Downey Jr. and Kilmer fire their friendly taunts at each other like they’re holding machine guns in their mouths. Black probably sweated over those lines for months, but they fly by so fast that you got to keep concentrated to catch them all. This makes KKBB a great one for rewatching. Shane Black is a veteran Hollywood writer, but for a first director job he did very well, but the pacing goes a little bit too fast, so that many great moments don’t reach their full effect.
It was great to see Val Kilmer again in an action role. Downey Jr. went on to hitch a ride with the Marvel movies, but Kilmer is underused in Hollywood and his presence is always a welcome surprise. Michelle Monaghan is the third element of the triangle around which the movie revolves, and she does a great job. Her character Harmony Faith Lane is a cliché but that goes for basically all characters of the movie. She’s the girl who tried to succeed in Hollywood but lost out, and she has a dark background. Downey Jr. plays a thief, Harry Lockhart, who is accidentally seen as an actor and Kilmer is more like a henchman.
It is not a love triangle because Kilmer’s character is styled as “Gay Perry” although his sexuality remains opaque. In any case, this is played to hilarious effect whenever Kilmer makes use of his nickname to get out of nasty situations. It also opens the road for a twisted love story between Harry and Harmony. Downey Jr. injects a good insecurity into Harry Lockhart that endears him. He is clumsy and insecure, basically a wisecracking thief who doesn’t really believe in himself, but has a good heart. His dealings with the cynical Harmony Faith Lane are touching. He’s also the involuntary narrator of the story. Shane Black references a lot of similar movies this way, like Boogie Nights (1997).
The plot is thin and a bit confusing, but the plot is mostly there to create funny situations. It’s a tool for the movie to focus on character, dialogue and absurdity. The precise plot twists don’t matter all that much. It’s more like an LA version of The Boondock Saints (1999) or Snatch (2000). It will gather a fan base through the years, but it won’t become a classic like Snatch or Boogie Nights. Its story is just not remarkable enough.
By the time the end credits roll, I feel like I need to see this movie again to fully take in everything that was going on. But I have a feeling that that rewatch will be just as entertaining as the first time. If all the movies I referenced appeal to you, make sure to check out KKBB as well. It just doesn’t have the story to make it a real classic, but it has comedy, action, witty dialogue and likable characters. A great time guaranteed.