Today’s little gem is a Robert Downey Jr. flick. If you wanna go by the director, his name is Shane Black. Ok, so the year is 2005, three years before Jon Favreau’s blockbuster Iron Man gets released into theaters, really kicking off Jr.’s career. Sure he had done some other movies like Weird Science or Less than Zero, but back then he was more well known for his run-ins with the cops than being every eight year old’s favorite Marvel character.
Ok, back to the movie. For those of you who don’t have much time on your hands, or just like to have people tell you what to watch, the movie in question is Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Now it’s a neo-noir black comedy about a thief who gets mistaken for a method actor and gets shipped off to Hollywood, and teams up with a P.I. to solve a mystery etc. etc. etc.
The thing that this movie does exceptionally well, is something that ends up killing a lot of great films for me. This element being pacing. See, in a movie, the pacing to me is the amount of time that feels like has taken place throughout the film. When I watch a movie that says that it has taken place over a long period of time, I expect every scene to do express that. In some movies, they’ll throw in a montage, or extend the last battle. The extension of the last battle is a real sticking point for me. A bad example in a battle film would be like as if they claim that it’s going to spend time on both the battle and the lead up. However the finished product only gives like fifteen minutes for the lead up and they spend an hour and a half on the battle.
I guess my point is, that if the film feels like it was vacuum packed into a plastic bag, then it’s bad pacing. As if had they just added fifteen to thirty more minutes to the theatrical cut, it wouldn’t seem as rushed.
Ok so now that I’ve explained my perception of pacing, I’m going to extrapolate upon how it works in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.
The movie doesn’t feel rushed. Everything from Harry Lockhart’s journey to LA to the eventual moment in the film when all the pieces fall into place.
Now this piece of praise generally doesn’t fall under a specific category, but I feel as if it deserves some attention. The fact that Shane specifically allowed you to figure out the mystery with the characters. I’m attempting to avoid spoilers since the film is good, but every detail that eventually leads to the big unveiling is planted in the background so well that I re-watched it to re-engineer the plot.
This doesn’t mean that the plot itself isn’t trash. In fact, I’d say that it’s actually one of the best original stories for a film since Memento or Mulholland Drive. The story is so layered that I find myself comparing it to Chinatown. However, in the end, one of the truly greatest aspects of the plot is the fact that it remains in the sweet spot that all mystery thrillers should strive to be. This little limbo where during the film, the closer you look at the different parts of the cover-up the less you understand. As well as the fact that once they tell you everything, you never saw it coming, and get an even larger feeling of gratification from it.
As I mentioned above, the film falls under the “neo-noir” genre. Which it does. Plot surrounding intrigue, love interest, pieces that are neglected but are actually major clues, etc. What you also get is some really good dark comedy that fills in the cracks like mortar in between the bathroom tiles. Whether it’s Val Kilmer’s gay P.I. cracking wise at the expense of a corpse or Harry himself, it never fails to entertain.
Speaking of the characters, they truly add to the experience to the point where they’re almost as interesting as the plot itself. Regardless of whether or not it’s Lockhart’s thief turned detective, Perry’s gay, jaded P.I. sick of the whole thing, or Michelle Monaghan’s Harmony Faith Lane, an aspiring actress who gets caught up in all the intrigue by total accident.
Speaking of characters, I’d say that if it wasn’t for the casting choices, that the film would be either mediocre or total shit. See, Jr. is a good actor, but his quirks are what makes his roles come alive. His rapid-fire, scatterbrained delivery makes Lockhart an entertaining and truly memorable character. Had someone else possibly played his role, I’d say we could’ve gotten a jaded take, effectively reducing the appeal of the character. Kilmer’s character was exactly what the movie needed: a jaded P.I. sick of people thinking that being a P.I. is some gritty job where you cheat death, shoot bad guys, and fuck the damsel in distress when the case is close. Ironically, this is where some of the best comedy comes from. The rest of the cast was very onenote. Sure Monaghan’s Harmony was fine, but from the lines she delivered there wasn’t much wiggle room. At the end of the day, the performance didn’t need to be changed since they all did what they needed to do: draw everyone’s attention to Kilmer and Jr. Which would’ve been detrimental if most of the film’s scenes didn’t have mainly Jr. and Kilmer.
Yet another thing that the film understands and uses to its advantage is how to break the fourth wall. Jr. narrates the story and even occasionally makes a few jokes. And at the end, they address the audience by thanking them for watching the film and being there. The thing that the movie does differently than other movies is that the fourth wall break isn’t like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, in the sense that they look to the side and give the audience accusing glares. They rely on breaking the fourth wall by making it seem like they’re just narrating a story.
The only issue that I’d say is where the point when the movie flips from dark comedy to serious thriller is very distinct. It isn’t close to a deal breaker, in fact, I’d say that the mood of the film is achieved quite nicely. Problem is, that the stark contrast between the two moments is built upon making my critique a bit nit picky, but not every movie can be Citizen Kane. While the contrast isn’t completely jarring, it’s the fact that they’re still trying to make you laugh past that point that slightly annoys me. However, all in all it’s still a hidden gem that should definitely be checked out if you’ve got two hours free.