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.
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 perfected.
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.