( This post is being published as part of Scenes of the Crime blogathon under the category Crime Comedies. This is one wacky, witty, satirical spoof on the Noir genre, featuring top notch performances by Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer. )
” These 4 words are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of the movies. The appeal is what attracts us and ultimately makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.”- Pauline Kael, after she saw the poster for a Bond movie , titled as Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang in Italian.
(Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes and moments in the movie are discussed here, please note)
Godard once famously remarked, “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun”. In a way both Godard and Kael, were stripping the movie making down to the basics. Of course one could argue they were looking at a Western perspective, but generally the first question any one has regarding an English movie in India. Are there any scenes( Kiss, Kiss) and next, are there any fights( Bang, Bang)? I feel that in one way, it explains the popularity of the Bond movies here, it has all the masala one finds in the conventional Indian movie, but it’s more fun what with the gadgets, the chases, the fights and of course the steamy stuff.
There are many ways in which one can take a look at Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. It can be seen as a spoof, that takes in all the standard noir elements- the narrator, the detective, the mystery, the intrigue, and then turns them upside down. It can be seen as a black comedy, that combines the elements of satire and intrigue, leading to a rather twisted finale. It can be seen as a tribute to Tarantino’s kinetic style, with ample dialogues that are there just because they have to be. Or combined together, it can be seen as one gigantic, twisted up fun ride, that spoofs everything around it, and never takes itself too seriously.
Something which kicks off right in the opening scene, when a little girl at a party, screams out loud, while another kid is doing the magic trick of sawing her in the box. Her concerned dad rushes there, only to find his little girl is safe and sound, and then she says “I want to be an actress”. Her dad is exasperated and then the opening credits. Cool, groovy, funky, the music playing tribute to those of the 50′s, 60′s noir movies, and the earlier Bond flicks. The credits too a kind of homage to 007 and Pink Panther series. Director Shane Black makes it clear that we are into one big twisted up joy ride. He should be knowing best, having scripted Lethal Weapon, one of the best 80′s action comedies ever, later on he would also script Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, one real cult action thriller. This was a guy steeped in the action, comedy format, knew it’s intricacies in and out, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he takes every noir, action cliche, and turns it upside down.
And then we have the lead character and narrator, Harry Lockheart( Robert Downey Jr), talking upfront to the audience, about what they would be witnessing, as he says
That’s me Harry. Now that i am in L.A. i go to parties– the kind where if a girl is Jill, she spells it as J-Y-L-L-E, that bullshit.
Harry’s gaze wandering around the party, rich, lavish, over the top, including a swimming pool with dolphins in it. And then he focuses on the two guys, one balding, sucking on a cigar, which we learn is the producer Dabney Shaw who discovered him, and the other guy is Perry Van Shrike( Val Kilmer), aka Gay Perry, “honest to good private eye, consults in TV, film. Also he’s gay”. But how did Harry actually end up here, and then he lets it out saying “I don’t see another Goddamn narrator, so pipe down. How’d i get here? See for yourself”. And then comes one of the movie’s best scenes, as we go into the flashback, Harry is a small time thief, who botches a store hold up, and along with his pal Bauer, makes a run. Bauer is shot dead, and Harry on the run from the cops lands up in a movie audition. Irony and fate intermingle here, Harry reads out from the script, one of the members an elderly woman, pushes him, saying he killed his partner. Harry still traumatic from the death of Bauer, blurts out, and then breaks down, feeling sorry. Harry is not acting here, he is actually expressing anguish about his partner’s death, but the crew feels he has done a great job, and he gets the role. Robert Downey Jr is brilliant in this scene, doing a Chaplinesque tragi comic performance.
While Harry got there by sheer luck, his childhood sweetheart, and the girl in the first shot, Harmony Faith( Michelle Monaghan)_ was the one destined to be an actress. “Harmony Faith Lane: IQ:166. Job: Actress Go Figure”. Harmony is shown sitting at the fire place, ranting against an agent, she seems to be an intellectual kind, discussing racism, in what appears to be some story about the reindeer of Santa Claus. Or maybe some one more intellectual than she should be.
HOW HARMONY GOT TO THE PARTY
So the 3 characters integral to the plot have been set up here
Harry Lockheart– The narrator, the small time thief turned actor by a twist of fate and irony.
Gay Perry– The smart, suave gay detective
And then there was Harmony, the opening scene had already set us up for Harmony, showing her deep desire to be an actress. But in spite of her dad’s disapproval, Harmony is determined to be one. So who is her motivation to become an actress. Harmony’s dad blamed the school, the kids around for his little girl slipping away, but the main culprit, was and then the camera zooms on to the book Harmony is reading
YOU’LL NEVER DIE IN THIS TOWN AGAIN- A Johnny Gossamer thriller.
Johnny Gossamer was one of those cheap paperback novels, lurid stuff, dealing with detectives and mysteries. To people like Harmony living in small town America, he was the major salvation, he made them dream about the promised land, called Los Angeles. Harmony literally lives in a dream world, hoping Johnny Gossamer, would come and rescue her sister from her Papa. And later on when we see her as the teen, she is travelling in the bus, and on her lap is the same Johnny Gossamer novel.
So what destiny made Harmony the actress. Well here it was a whacked out actor, Jeff Neal, playing the role of PROTOCOP( another tongue in cheek reference to ROBOCOP), breaks into the home where Harmony is staying. Another superb scene, with the director intercutting between the Protocop show on TV, and the real PROTOCOP breaking into Harmony’s kitchen, she shocked to discover him, and then whacks him out. That’s when during a TV interview of the crime scene, the same producer Dabney Shaw, sees Harmony, loves her “tits” and then gets her for his next movie.
Destiny again playing the role. Harry never wanted to be an actor, but destiny made him one. Harmony was destined to be the actress, but again it was Destiny, that gave her the break. And in both cases, the controller was same, the producer Dabney Shaw.
Destiny again brings Harry and Perry together, when Dabney asks him to team up with Perry, for the latest movie he is doing, for better preparation. A sly dig at method acting here.
Destiny makes Harry meet up with his childhood sweetheart Harmony, at the bar, they meet up, she remembers him, they recall their childhood. But that’s where the fuck up takes place, Harry gets sloshed, and ends up making it out with Harmony’s friend. The set up here is done superbly, parodying the typical cliched Hollywood sex scene, we see Harmony and Harry indulging in flirty talk, drinking, and then the roll in the sack. Harry wakes up next morning, but it’s Harmony’s friend at his bed. The encounter he was with Harmony when she knocks on the door is a scream.
Harry: Marleah right, fell asleep at my place, I don’t remember seeing you leave….
Harmony: I left when you still had your tongue down her throat.
And later when Harry tries to convince Harmony that he actually likes her, and wanted her, she hits back
ENOUGH. Oh my God. You come here at 5 in the morning to tell me how much you like me after you just fucked my friend?
THE LADY IN THE LAKE
Perry now leads Harry into the actual world of detection and surveillance. It’s not the glam world of Johnny Gossamer which he had imagined. As part of his detective training ritual, Harry and Perry are now shadowing a lady Ames Allison. The jokes come flying thick and fast here. Harry first watches a hooded guy coming out, and asks Perry.
How the hell should i know? I didn’t make those arrangements, my client did.
And then the guy’s car starting with a repetitive thud sound. Why asks Harry again?
What do i look like his fucking mechanic? Grab the bag and follow me.
And then discovering the body in the trunk of the car, one hell of a scene. It becomes a complete comedy of errors, as our 2 heroes grope about, and then pull out the dead lady from the car trunk.
WHERE IS MY GUN?
The best scene of the movie hands down. This is what a comedy should be like. Kilmer and Downey in full form, with some witty dialogue. Kilmer asking Downey about his gun. Downey’s guilty look, telling Kilmer he had thrown away his gun, and then Kilmer lashing back, first coming to terms with it, and then
You threw my $650 vintage revolver in the Goddamn lake?
And the most priceless
Look up “idiot” in the dictionary, you know what you will find. The definition of the word IDIOT, which you fucking are.
One of the best comic sequences ever, made memorable by some smart ass dialogue, and great acting.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is what a spoof should be like. Wild, wacky, outrageous, it just about spoofs everything in Hollywood. What really makes this a cult, is the way the conventional noir elements the narrator and the chapter wise structure, are superimposed on a whole series of spoofs that mock at every element in the noir-detective genre. So it is like you are using the traditional narrative, to mock at the very genre. Also getting Harry to talk to the audiences, gets our attention right from the word go. You can’t miss out the frames, every moment Harry is talking to you, bringing you straight into the action. And of course Destiny doing the interplay between the 3 main characters, as they go about solving a mystery they had never intended to come upon.
My earlier posts in Scenes of the Crime series