(Shane Black, USA, 2005)
It may not be the worst film of all time, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is probably one of the most unnecessary. A comedy crime caper with an oh-so-knowing voice over, it's just one more of many, from Get Shorty to Be Cool, Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead to The Opposite Of Sex. It's just that somehow this feels worse than the rest. Perhaps because it's so smug, with writer/director Shane Black's script oozing self-regard, amused by its own mediocre jokes, and pointing out plot clichés as if owning up to them is sufficient excuse for them.
The one saving grace is Robert Downey Jr, an actor of such charisma that he can shrug off his various real-life drug busts and indiscretions and still make most audiences eager to sell their grannies just to buy him some coke, should he ever deign to ask. Even he has his work cut out here, though, as his character of Harry Lockhart goes through so many personality shifts in such a short time, that credibility soon becomes a distant memory. Starting out as a standard issue Elmore Leonard loveable small time crook, he earns sympathy for trying to protect an unconscious woman at a party from apparent molestation, but ends up getting a beating from her boyfriend. His heart's in the right place, then, but no tough guy. But all too soon, he's dangling off a motorway bridge by one hand, firing a machine gun at the bad guys' cars, and unerringly hitting them all. Meanwhile, pity poor co-star Val Kilmer, who has nothing to do but be Downey Jr's stooge, and to be a body on which to hang the 'comedy' name of Gay Perry. He's called Perry, he's gay… sigh.
Shane Black previously wrote The Last Action Hero, the horribly self-adoring Schwarzenegger flop, which mistakenly thought audiences were interested in the real Arnie, rather just enjoying watching him destroy things on screen. Kiss Kiss has the same feeling of a Hollywood insider glorying in his own inclusion into the dream factory, whilst sneering at those lowly mortals watching from the normal world. When Downey's voice-over requests that viewers in Times Square not shout out, and apologises to those watching in the Midwest for all the swearing, the result is cringe-makingly patronising.
The Big Lebowski was everything Kiss Kiss would like to be: a truly funny updating of Raymond Chandler, with weird-but-convincing characters. But then Kiss Kiss is deliberately less intelligent than the Coen Brothers, much more a generic action film, and it goes for silly set-pieces over character (or even any kind of basic sense) every time. The feverish praise it got from the press is bewildering, probably another example of the Downey Jr factor, although the poor box office suggests word of mouth wasn't so supportive. Even so, the smarmy faux-clever attitude on display will probably make this a little cult item for those who've convinced themselves they're "in on the joke." They're not. 5/10
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