Is That The Pitter Patter of Snappy Dialogue? Or A Kevin Smith Wet Dream?
Conflicting emotions can evoke powerful reactions. Just think of the first relationship you ever had that turned into a sour love/hate hybrid. Or, think of how you ended it with the claw end of a hammer, and the subsequent lust/disgust of the make-up corpse sex. That exact mix of emotion is what defines Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The film is simultaneously horribly annoying and raucously entertaining, like watching a UFC tournament at a sports bar. Interestingly enough, the first feeling spawns the second, in a manner not unlike the feeling of guilt that follows masturbating to the cover of The Golden Girls Season 1 DVD box set; it felt great at the time, but now you’re ashamed and you can never, ever tell anyone about it. Thankfully for all you readers, I lost all vestiges of self-respect the moment I got my first pentagram tattoo, so I will freely admit to the guilty pleasures that are Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Blanche Deveraux’s pruney but still attractive visage.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is almost instantly annoying. If the film were a person, it would be a guy who went to a lot of Star Trek conventions in high school, but made it big in the early 90s internet boom, so now he’s really rich and revels in his own geekiness and won’t shut up about anything ever. But then, after listening to him prattle on for an hour about the shift in televised science fiction from the utopian to the dystopian, you realize that you’ve seen all the same Space 1999 episodes, and he’s got a lot of problems with the much lauded 1980s DC comics event Crisis on Infinite Earths too. So, you get engaged in the conversation, maybe start to participate a bit, and by the end you’re laughing at all the same Gerry Anderson references. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang won me over in the same way. It has a playful love of 40s pulp detective novels, as do I, though I tend not to stuff my obsession down people’s throats quite as obviously as this film does. The plot is needlessly complex, the dialogue painfully snappy, and the characterizations overblown and exaggerated. The fact that this can be readily explained by the film’s crutch-like reliance on Raymond Chandler plots feels more like a cheap cop-out than a deliberate choice. The story is needlessly convoluted, but flies by so fast you almost miss how stupid it is because a one-liner just zipped past your head like a stray bullet at a Get Rich or Die Trying screening. In the film, a small time thief hides from the cops in a casting audition, gets mistaken for an actor, then is flown to LA, where he gets mistaken for a private eye and gets wrapped up in a murder case. Apparently, somebody in Hollywood mistook this five clause bad joke set up for a screenplay. You can’t make a film about sloppily written novels and then claim that it doesn’t make sense because it’s supposed to, any more than I can burn down a Korean grocery store and write it off as a comment about institutionalized racism. Trust me.
But, nevertheless, the film succeeds on a certain level, namely because of the charisma of the leads. Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr, and a cheap facsimile of Ellen Pompeo are all quite engaging, even while stumbling over the kind of dialogue that makes first year AFI screenwriting fellows cream in their pants but makes everyone else either wince or change the channel to the next Pulp Fiction rip-off on IFC. Director/writer Shane Black doesn’t help matters by including irritatingly referential narration and film effects that would be termed structural experimentation if they weren’t being done by the guy who wrote Lethal Weapon. In his hands, they come off like a really slow, deliberate wink to the audience followed by a lengthy speech about how you don’t need to go to film school so long as you have Scorsese DVDs with audio commentary. Or Golden Girls season 1. That’ll do, too.