With The Nice Guys hitting theatres this weekend, I thought this would be a good time to look back a another detective movie written and directed by Shane Black: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang stars Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart, a burgler from New York City, who stumbles his way into a Hollywood screen test (as you do). Upon arriving in Tinseltown, Harry meets Perry van Shrike, a.k.a. “Gay Perry,” the private detective hired by the studio to be a consultant on the film. One night, on what is supposed to be a routine video surveillance, the two of them discover a dead body. Then hilarity ensues.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is both a film noir and a comedy. Based on the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday, the movie is a “meta” take on hard boiled detective films and pulp novels. Some reviewers at the time compared Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to the Scream movies. A more recent comparison could be made to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. The Scream and Cornetto films work as both meta fiction, and movies within their given genres, as does Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
One stock character in a pulp novel or film noir is the femme fatale. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that would be Harmony Lane, played by Michelle Monaghan. In a typical film noir, Harmony would be a smart woman, who constantly finds herself in trouble. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Harmony is a smart woman, who constantly finds herself in absurd situations. And trouble.
What Kiss Kiss Bang Bang does so well is play with the conventions of the genre. The characters may not always make the unexpected choice, but they often make the most insane version of the expected one. I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to be surprised when I watch a movie, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang does that more often than not.