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Shane Black was tinsel town’s golden boy. The pen behind classic buddy movies like Lethal Weapon disappeared off the radar after pocketing $4million for writing The Long Kiss Goodnight, but now he’s back and this time he’s behind the camera.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Feature


Though not exactly prolific, Shane Black quickly carved himself a niche in Hollywood through the 80s and 90s. His name is synonymous with buddy action comedies, his screenplays turning the genre on its head with unconventional setups and setting standards with witty one-liners. Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight all paired a relatively stable ‘minority’ character (in each of those cases a black male) with an unstable white character and combined clever dialogue with unexpected twists on the conventions of the genre.

With his debut directorial effort, Black has stuck to a similar formula with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by pairing the stable Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) with the neurotic petty thief turned actor Harry (Robert Downey Jr), only this time he is also messing with a second genre: film noir. Film noir conventions are introduced and almost immediately turned around. Harry’s opening monologue begins as a classic noir voiceover but he quickly changes from the hard-boiled hard-done-by enigma we expect from the genre into a wise-cracker, fully aware of his own character flaws. He then attempts to light a cigarette Sam Spade-style and falls foul of the modern LA attitude to smoking in public.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The story itself is intentionally complex and centres on Harry, who teams up with Gay Perry to learn to be a detective for a role in a film but quickly becomes embroiled in a web of murder and deceit for real. The viewer is thrown around with improbable twists and coincidences coming one after another and then challenged by Harry in his voiceover to work out what’s going on.  By that point I wasn’t too bothered about the plot, I was just enjoying the great dialogue between Harry and Gay Perry.

”This isn’t good cop, bad cop. This is fag and New Yorker.”

Shane Black loves to play around with the audience’s expectations by presenting them with a typical setup, then completely changing what usually happens in every other action movie. Nowhere is this more evident than in a scene where Harry and Perry are pressing one of the bad guys for information and Harry decides to take the Russian roulette route, by putting one bullet in a six-shooter and spinning the barrel. I don’t want to give too much away but he doesn’t pull the trigger six times to find the bullet...

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Black has an obvious love for film noir (the chapters of the movie are named after Raymond Chandler novels) but he also makes his feelings for Hollywood in general known. Man, that guy really hates everything and everyone in his neighbourhood. Anger frequently breeds great comedy and this is no exception. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Hollywood is populated by vacuous blonde bimbos and old, over-tanned men trying to look like movie stars, all designed to make us laugh and cut close to the bone of the inhabitants of 90210. He also uses this view of the world to comment on the way films are made, especially the way second-choice actors are only used to ‘get Colin Farrell down by $2million’.

”I’ll be over there with the native American Joe Pesci.”

There’s a lot to recommend in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for the casual viewer. It’s very funny at times, has two great central performances and there’s plenty of action and intrigue but at the risk of being drawn through the streets and stoned to death for being a film snob, I’d say there’s more to appreciate for viewers already well-versed in the conventions of film noir so if you who know Detour from De-Lovely you should add an extra point onto the feature score. That said, I was still hoping for a little more from Shane Black’s first feature as a director. Since he has voiced his varying opinions of the previous adaptations of his work, it’s slightly disappointing to see that the style of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is not a million miles away from those films.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Video


The quality of the video is generally good and predictably there isn’t any dirt on the picture. Many scenes in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are lit with blue and nostalgic sepia tones, which work particularly well with the tone of the film although they are of varying standards. It’s interesting that on a vanilla disc, there are signs of compression in the picture, particularly in large sections of black and blue.

Audio


Given that we’re in action territory, there’re not a considerable amount of events that show off the 5.1 track. The gunfire effects are purposely subdued, most likely in an attempt to put a fresh spin on the expectations we have of action films rather than being down to a low quality audio mix. The film itself doesn’t feature lots of explosions going off all over the place or booming instrumental music. It’s predictable that a first-time director who specialises in writing witty dialogue would not shift his focus to play around with sound effects so I don’t think any amount of re-mastering would provide a significant improvement.

Extras


I guess you’ve got to respect the nerve of the studio for not even trying. No extras. Not even a trailer.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Overall


Shane Black’s first movie as a director is a great ride while it lasts, with enough quotable lines to rival Napoleon Dynamite but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is not as memorable an experience as I hoped it would be. Its purpose in the future will probably be to live on as the director’s calling card as he moves on to bigger and better things, if anyone in Hollywood will work with him of course.

The DVD presentation is acceptable but this version was almost certainly released just to get it out there on the shelves. My advice is to keep your money in your pocket for now and give it a rent. I’m taking bets on how long it will take for a special edition to come out. The smart money’s on Christmas...


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