Shane Black, who made a name for himself by writing Lethal Weapon put himself in the director’s chair for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Loosely based on Brett Halliday’s Bodies are Where You Find Them, it creates a wry, snarky pulp fiction noir-comedy-thriller set in modern day Los Angeles.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang follows thief-turned actor Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) who finds himself tied to a real life private detective Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer) while preparing for an upcoming role. While on an investigation at a party, Harry bumps into his old girlfriend Harmony Lane (Michelle Monoghan) and suddenly finds himself thrust into a serious crime as the bodies start to pile up around him.
Trying to understand the plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a bit like catching an eel, each time you think you’ve got it, it slips in an unexpected direction that confuses and confuddles you. To boil it down to its key characteristics you might simply describe it as a buddy film. With noir elements. And pulp fiction influences. At this point it starts to get away from you and no matter how hard you try to pin it down to a genre it keeps breaking conventions and wryly mocking itself.
Narrated by a downbeat Harry it immediately invokes Sunset Blvd. and draws into question the reliability of the man telling the story. Having this framing mechanism does however allow Black and predominantly leading man Robert Downey Jr. to tear away layer and layer of subtext and metaphor, making sure to poke fun at each other, the audience and the private detective fiction genre to name but a few. Luckily it is so cleverly scripted with zinging dialogue throughout that you barely care that none of it makes any real sense.
Made on such a minute Hollywood budget of $15m, Black was able to make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang exactly how he wanted it. This proves a blessing in terms of comedy and one-liners and a curse as the structure unravels so far as to make it seem a little too clever for its own good. There are plenty of times when a joke outstays its welcome or it becomes so wrapped up in its own meta deconstruction that it becomes meaningless and dull.
Fortunately Downey Jr. and Kilmer have an easy chemistry that is a joy to witness, while Monaghan is the real character gem who keeps us hooked as everything else falls apart around her. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a genre-bending noir crime comedy that re-established Shane Black’s credentials and no doubt helped him to score the 2013 summer blockbuster Iron Man 3.