Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1990)

A dark, eclectic comedy and homage to film noir.

Jean Luc Godard said all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun. Film critic Pauline Kael refined that after seeing an Italian movie poster which translated as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” These four words, she wrote, “are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of the movies.”

  • Director: Shane Black
  • Producer: Joel Silver
  • Cinematographer: Michael Barrett
  • Editor:  Jim Page
  • Writer: Shane Black (Based on Bodies Are Where You Find Them, by Brett Halliday)
  • Actors: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, MichelleMonaghan
  • Music: John Ottman
  • Art Director: Erin Cochran

Setting — A petty thief (Robert Downey Jr.) posing as an actor posing as a detective finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation along with his high school dream girl (Michelle Monaghan) and a Hollywood detective (Val Kilmer).

Neo-noir — Paying homage to early noir films, the chapter titles in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are named after Raymond Chandler stories, and the hard-boiled writers Hammett and Brett Halliday can be sensed throughout. As with Chandler’s tales, the plot of the film is willfully convoluted, equal parts tribute and snarky subversion.

The ingredients of the hard-boiled stories and noir cinema are all here: the glamorous but seedy city (L.A.); the jaded and ineffectual but ultimately decent detective; the troubled but strong femme fatal; a twisting story that’s hard to follow; and plenty of bang-bang.

This film hits on one of film noir’s central themes: the suggestion that some people may have been damaged or compromised themselves too much to ever be made whole (or fall in love) again. As such, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is both an exemplar and parody of the genre, a postmodern comic-noir.

To consider

• Shane Black says he de-saturated the colors in post-production to give the film a crude, rough look.

• The alternative title for Black’s script was “You’ll Never Die In This Town Again“, one of the dime-store novel titles written by the film’s fictional gumshoe, Jonny Gossamer (along with “Straighten Up And Die Right” and “Small Town Boy Makes Dead”). The pulp fiction device provides the film’s link between meta-homage, neo-noir, and Hollywood.

 

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