The Blu-Ray format has taken a lot of hits since it was first released,
most of them fully justified. Whatever possessed Sony to put out
substandard discs for the first wave of releases is beyond me, and that
alone did more to harm the format than anything else. Things are
starting to look up though, even if only slightly. There have been
some good looking releases on Blu-Ray recently, and while many of the films
released on the format aren't blockbusters or even all that good (RV,
The Punisher, S.W.A.T.) occasionally a quality movie does
get released on the format. One such film is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,
a quirky, funny, and all around good movie that will surprise you at how
enjoyable it is.
The film is narrated by Harry (Robert Downey Jr.) a low rent criminal
in New York City who steals small electronics to keep body and soul together.
With his pithy voice over, Harry relates how during a robbery that went
awry, he ducked into a room to ditch the cops only to find it occupied
with people holding casting auditions. Getting a piece of paper with
lines that hit a little too close to home, Harry broke down and cried which
wowed the producer (Larry Miller). The next thing he knows he's in
LA attending a fancy party and narrating a film. (And doing the later
badly by his own admission. "Oh shit. I skipped something. Damn it.
This whole robot bit. I made a big deal, then I like totally forgot. Fuck,
this is bad narrating.")
In order to prepare him for his screen test, the producer arranges to
get a local detective, Perry (Val Kilmer) to let Harry tag along with him
to get some real-life investigative experience. When the person they
are staking out tries to hide a dead body, they find themselves knee deep
in a murder. They would go to the police, but Perry, well, he sort
of accidently shoots the corpse in the head, and that would take some explaining,
so they leave it.
Harry also runs into the girl he had a crush on in high school, Harmony
(Michelle Monaghan), who is in LA trying to make in big in movies.
So far she hasn't had any luck. Harry tells her that he's a PI, and
when Harmony's sister ends up dead of an apparent suicide, she asks her
old friend to prove that she was really murdered. The two cases are
interlocked, of course, before he knows it Harry is getting shot at, peeing
on a corpse, and basically getting the crap knocked out of him.
This dark comedy/detective film both pays homage to the film noir moives
of the 40's and 50's as well as poking fun at them and cinema in general.
Harry's rambling narration both advances the plot and sets the comic tone
for the film ("Don't worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I'm not going
to end this 17 times.") The magic of this movie is that it is able to be
a serious detective story too, with a well thought out who-done-it with
plenty of mystery and suspects. You never know when they are going
to seamlessly switch gears and that uncertainty adds to the comedic effect.
A good example of this is near the beginning of the film when Harry,
at a high class party, catches a sleazy actor type looking up the dress
of a sleeping girl. The tough New York criminal doesn't like what
he sees and lets the pretty-boy know:
Harry: You know what? You'd better be her doctor.
(Actor looks up.)
Harry: Walk away, don't think, just do it.
Actor: What are you, her brother or something? It's none of your business,
man. I will fuck you up.
Harry (very coolly): No. You'll try, and that little experiment
will end in tears, my friend. So, again for the cheap seats: do not think,
walk the fuck away - or let's you and me go outside right now. It's
past my bedtime. Make a choice.
The next scene shows Harry laying on the ground getting the living shit
knocked out of him by the pretty boy actor. Definitely not what was
expected, and also very funny.
The script, written by Shane Black (who penned the Lethal Weapon
films and is also the movie's director,) is witty, clever, and filled with
quotable lines that will soon find their way into the common conversation
the way great movie sayings always do. (My favorite being "Well now,
here we all are: Ike, Mike and Mustard." And, no, it doesn't make
much sense even if you've seen the film.)
This film reminded me a lot of Pulp Fiction. Not because of the
excessive violence or non-linear story telling, but because I felt the
same way after watching this movie as I did when I first screened Quentin
Tarantino's run away hit; I was excited that I had seen such a different
and fun film, and wanted everyone to know about it.
The acting is excellent across the board. Val Kilmer is histerical
as the homosexual private eye "Gay" Perry, but Robert Downey Jr. steals
the film with his quirky yet excellent performance as Harry. An acting
job that the Academy should have recognized, the film is worth watching
just for him.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this
review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design,
and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which
creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official
announcement from Samsung.
The widescreen 2.40:1 image looks really, really good on Blu-Ray.
This is one of the few Blu-Ray discs that impressed me from the first frames.
The definition and level of detail are both excellent, with the picture
having a three-dimensional look and a lot of 'pop.' The colors, which
are an important part of the film, are reproduced wonderfully with a full
range of tones and shades. The opening scene which takes place in the past
has a warm yellow tint to it that is both effective for setting the time
and gives the scene a nice look, like a faded color home movie. The
blacks are solid and deep, and the whites are bright and forceful.
Slight details don't fade and disappear when a shadow falls over them,
and the film has a good level of contrast.
On the digital side, things look just as nice. Posterization isn't
noticeable and other common compression artifacts such as aliasing and
blocking are also absent. This is a good looking disc.
This film comes with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack in English and French
as well as a Spanish stereo mix. It should be noted that there is
not a PCM 5.1 track that Sony has been including on its Blu-Ray releases.
Since the uncompressed audio takes up so much room, I think it is a wise
decision to leave it off, at least until double layer Blu-Ray discs are
The sound, like the image, was very good. The film has a lot of
dialog, but the mix is still rich and full. There is a lot of use
made of the full soundstage, especially during the action scenes where
bullets fire are ricochet all around the room. The score by John
Ottman is wonderful and it is never pushy or overbearing, mixing in nicely
with the conversations and sound effects. A rich warm musical track
that adds a lot to the film.
The quality of sound reproduction was excellent. Distortion, hiss,
dropouts and other audio defects are totally absent.
There are a couple of nice extras included on this disc, which happily
are the same bonus items that appeared on the SD and HD DVD versions of
this film. The biggest extra is a commentary track by writer/director
Shane Black and stars Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. While this
isn't the best commentary track ever, it is oddly appealing. Once
you start it, it's hard to turn it off. The three people joke around
and poke fun at themselves and the film, and while they don't go into a
lot of detail about the production, it is fun to hear what they have to
say. A nice commentary track that won't increase your appreciation
of the film but is enjoyable none the less.
The other bonus items are a four-minute gag reel which is only mildly
amusing (there are many scenes of the actors just laughing, though what
caused them to laugh is missing) and a trailer. A fairly small selection
of bonus items for such a recent film, but not too bad.
When you review movies, you end up seeing a lot of mediocre and bad
films. After a while, you forget why you were a film fan in the first
place and get a bit jaded. Then a film like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
comes along to remind you that films can be interesting, exciting, funny,
and dramatic all at the same time. This movie just hits all the right
notes and works well. I'll be insisting that my friends see this
movie soon, and you should too. Highly Recommended.