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Movie Review | Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and Harry (Robert Downey Jr) form a great double act in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Movie summary: A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor. (IMDb)

As I think I made clear in my review of The Nice Guys, I really like Shane Black's stuff and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is no exception - in fact, it's my favourite of his movies. It was watching it again for this review that sealed it, honestly shocking me with how many times it made me actually laugh out loud with some of the brilliant, hilarious dialogue given to almost all of the characters we meet.

You might recognise the guy who plays the lead role of Harry Lockhart - he went on to star in a little indie movie about a guy abducted by terrorists that led a lot more. Yes, this is pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr and a little hint at what else we could've seen from him if not for the behemoth that is the MCU. I say 'seen' because I doubt we'll ever see Downey in a role like this again.

Yes, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a movie with plenty of humour and action, with characters snarking at everyone and everything in sight, but this is a little different to the public image Downey has built up now. There's a huge amount of cursing in this movie, violence that is as bloody as you'd expect when guns are involved and then there's Harry's vulnerability.

No, it isn't a weakness like a superhero would have, I mean that Harry is out of his depth and barely able to even understand what's going on, usually proving to be the butt of the joke and generally struggling to keep up. Harry isn't a weak character - he's great to watch and laugh at and with - but he's nothing like the hyper-competent and confident Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes Downey is now most famous for playing.

The real star of the show is Val Kilmer as Gay Perry, who is definitely competent and provides a number of the biggest laughs by mocking Harry, usually in frustration at him screwing things up. Perry is definitely being mean and even acknowledges he's not a nice guy, but you can't help but like him because he's just so damn funny to watch and you completely understand why Harry annoys him so much.

Saying that, the biggest surprise of this re-watch was Michelle Monaghan as Harmony. To get the superficial side out of the way: holy crap, is she stunningly gorgeous in this movie. In fact, considering how image-favouring Hollywood is, I'm amazed that she never got more roles based on her looks alone - but that wasn't the surprise for me.

There's a moment in this movie when Harmony is struggling with a guy assaulting her, fighting him off with a knee to the groin and a very convincing headbutt. Monaghan completely sells the physicality of her hits and it doesn't feel contrived in the slightest that this young woman took down a guy twice her size with two hits.

That got me thinking: she absolutely nails the humour in this movie, matching and occasionally surpassing global superstar Robert Downey Jr. Monaghan is also just as good in the more serious scenes, making Harmony feel like a real person who's had a very hard life. Then there's the above and the fact that she's clearly capable of handling action too.

So, completely ignoring how amazing she looks, how the hell has she not had more work? I know she's had small parts in the Mission: Impossible movies as Julia, but I don't understand how she never became a bigger star in blockbusters after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Okay, this movie turns 15 in November, but I'd still be more than happy for her to get another shot now - she's only a year older than Downey was when he got the Iron Man gig after all...

As for the story, it's full of twists and turns which help provide more opportunities for humour with Harry and Harmony bumbling through as Perry does his best to help them, but it does occasionally get a little too meta at times. From the start, the movie is playing with film noir tropes which are acknowledged by Downey's narration, but a little restraint could've gone a long way.

Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) and Harry (Robert Downey Jr) have questions in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

In contrast to The Prestige, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang doesn't need a second viewing to get the hints from the start of the movie that set up the ending because the movie flat out tells you what they are. Most of the time, this isn't too bad because it's setting up a funny scene or a line that'll make you laugh, but a couple of bits feel a little like insurance against disliking the more formulaic stuff.

When the action ramps up for the finale and the humour takes a back seat, the movie doesn't really work. In fact, it almost feels a little boring and, at times, very much like Shane Black couldn't figure out a way to resolve it through character work, relying instead on a simple public shootout instead. It's a shame for the movie to end on a comparatively weak sequence, but I'd argue that it's more of a testament to how good the rest of the movie is.

I'd love to delve more into the humour, but it's really based in dialogue that would just end up with me quoting huge amounts of the screenplay. As stated above, Kilmer is the comedic star of the movie and his interactions with pretty much anyone are an absolute joy to watch, with credit having to go to Black for providing such excellent material in the first place.

Strangely, there's also an element of what might feel like 'wokeness' to the movie, with Harry feeling like a response to the #MeToo movement. I promise this makes sense in context, but there's a moment when he flicks a spider off the breast of a sleeping Harmony, but wakes her in doing so (she's already told him she doesn't like spiders). She initially seems shocked, assuming he grabbed her tit, before dismissing it as okay.

Harry is shocked at her comfort with being groped while sleeping and insists it isn't okay, but it does make you wonder how many Harvey Weinsteins Hollywood star wannabe Harmony has had to deal with. Then there's offering Harry sexual favours later that he also rejects, again shocked at her willingness to sleep with a guy to make him more comfortable.

These moments are just character beats for Harry, showing that he's actually a good guy who would only do anything intimate with a woman with not just her consent, but because she wants him - like when he sleeps with Harmony's friend (Ali Hillis) near the start of the movie. If this movie came out today, I could easily see Harry being attacked by the right for not taking advantage of Harmony's apparent acceptance of being a sexual prize for men.

That might seem a little serious, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn't just comedy and action, with Harmony's backstory being not pleasant in the slightest. The fact that neither person responsible for her traumatic childhood and present life get what the audience will probably feel they deserve is a shame, because they're both pretty despicable men.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an absolutely hilarious movie with three super-strong leads that have some of the most amazing comedic chemistry you'll ever see and some of the best dialogue you'll ever hear. The catharsis-lacking and somewhat formulaic finale stops it from being an all-time classic, but I'd still recommend this movie to anyone (well, any adult) and can't see that changing any time soon.


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