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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

by on 2011/03/28

“See, this is what I’m talking about . . . old school.”

* * * *

“Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” — as many fans will gladly debate — was a nickname given to James Bond in the 1960s, either by Japanese audiences or an Italian journalist. So popular was the moniker, Thunderball nearly featured a song with the name as its theme.

That movie was released in 1965, well after the heyday of film noir. Still the phrase “kiss kiss bang bang” succinctly expresses the allure, excitement, and wit of Shane Black’s 2005 retrophiliac opus. Tale and telling alike are informed by a knowing grasp of its predecessors, a respect for their conventions, and an able confidence in bending or breaking the rules.

That tale begins at a Christmas party in Hollywood. Struggling actor Harry Lockhart (Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr) is lurking about struggling actress Harmony Faith Lane (Mission Impossible 3’s Michelle Monaghan). She seems inexplicably familiar, but his coach, Perry van Shrike (Tombstone’s Val Kilmer), chalks it up to desperation.

They eventually meet and discover they did know each other in their youth. After a night of drunken revelry, the police confront Harry . . . Harmony has apparently committed suicide. Unable to accept their conclusion, he investigates, and discovers the truth about her runs even deeper than the secret he himself is hiding.

The setup is remarkable, and better than what follows yet, seeing as the second half is “only” excellent, there’s little for me to criticize. The script is packed with an abundance of exceptionally pithy dialogue, especially for Harry.

  • “I’m retired. I invented dice when I was a kid.”
  • “This is every shade of wrong.”
  • “I feel sore. I mean physically, not like a guy who’s angry . . . in the 1950s.”

His excursions are demarcated by cards with titles like “Trouble Is My Business”, “The Simple Art of Murder”, and “Farewell My Lovely”. He addresses the audience directly in a self-aware voice-over. “I’m Harry Lockhart,” he informs us early on. “I’ll be your narrator.” He’s familiar with “A” and “B” plots, points out storytelling devices, and breaks past the fourth wall at one point.

His adventures are complex in structure, postmodern in execution, morally vague, and blackly humourous in tone. Sepia tinges the flashbacks. Film stops mid-frame for commentary sidebars. The hearth of old is replaced by logs on a widescreen TV.

It’s not all winking self-reference, however. It has substance and style of its own. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang relies on what works, but employs fresh twists which succeed far more often than not. Add in some legitimately cool animation, evoking vintage Saul Bass and Shag, and an appropriately jazzy score by John Ottman, and you have the best multi-functioning noir I’ve seen so far.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (America) for language, nudity, and violence

103 minutes

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