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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // R // June 20, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 29, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Hi. I know we've never met or anything, but the smart money says you fall into one of the following groups:
  1. I have no idea what a "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is, exactly.
  2. I've heard murmurs about this Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and would very much like to know what a third-rate amateur movie reviewer thought of it.
  3. I caught Kiss Kiss Bang Bang during its oh-shit-I-blinked-and-therefore-missed-it limited theatrical run and want to make sure you didn't fuck up the review, Adam.
The bitter saying goes that inside every movie reviewer is a failed filmmaker trying to claw his way out. I don't think that's necessarily true, but I was immediately struck with a couple of things when I watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for the first time yesterday. One, I'm incredibly jealous of Shane Black, and not just because being able to say you wrote Lethal Weapon probably gets you laid. No, I'm jealous because if I worked in the industry, this is the movie I'd want to see with my name in the opening credits. Exact same cast and crew. Same score. Every line of dialogue intact. It's the type of movie that on one hand makes me glad that I review movies and have a chance to see stuff I might've overlooked otherwise, and on the other, I find the prospect of reviewing something I love so much kinda daunting. My other kneejerk reaction was that ten minutes in, I started tallying the names of people I knew I'd have to force to watch it. That's not something I do that often, but when I do, I know the review's going to wind up with "Highly Recommended" and some light HTML markup at the end.

Okay, moving past the self-indulgent intro and somewhere into the realm of plot summary, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a self-aware slice of blackly comedic neo-noir. It's a movie that knows it's a movie with a narrator who knows that he's...right, you get the idea. The narration is tackled by Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a small-time thief in New York who stumbles into an audition, inadvertently impresses the suits, and finds himself whisked out to L.A. He's invited to a ritzy party where he bumps into Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), a professional Aspiring Actress whose biggest claim to fame is waving her hand in a goofy beer commercial, and private dick Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), who's supposed to give Harry a little insight into the whole detective racket before his screentest. Harry and Harmony are far too familiar with the pulp detective novels of Johnny Gossamer, whose stories always had two seemingly unrelated cases that eventually intertwine. Surprise, surprise...that's what happens here too. Harmony wants a private detective to investigate an apparent suicide that she's pegged as murder, while other nefarious forces are trying to frame Harry for a murder plot that he and Gay Perry witnessed. And...okay, don't fret about the story. The story's incidental.

Y'know, nothing against the story -- it's just that the overall plot and the various twists and turns the somewhat convoluted story takes aren't what makes the movie what it is. I guess it's still worth pointing out that there are a bunch of those twists and turns, though. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang knows the audience has seen at least a couple dozen murder/mysteries; the next scene almost never takes the direction you think it will, and when it does, there's usually some wry narration griping about it. But no, it's the little moments in the story that are inspiring this dragged-out but very positive write-up. It's as much a comedy as it is a mystery/suspense/thriller/whatever, but it's the darkest, stickiest, most depraved funny-movie I've seen in...weeks, for sure. Maybe months. The climax has Harry holding for dear life onto a corpse's arm that's poking out of a coffin perched perilously on an overpass. There's a scene with a dog, a bowl of ice, and a repeatedly severed finger. A chick's dead body that had already been through an awful lot gets peed on accidentally. Harry's poor math skills skew the odds on a game of Russian roulette. I could keep that list going, but there's already a $15 million flick with all of that stuff in it, and you're probably better off watching it instead of reading my awkward descriptions.

Cacklingly dark sense of humor? Check. Next on the punchlist is the brilliant dialogue. Lines like "let's get the flock out of here" in Shane's Lethal Weapon screenplay may have made me cringe, but damn near every line of dialogue in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is Internet-message-board-signature material. This review is long enough already that the last thing it needs is a bunch of quotes, so just take it on faith. There's so much brilliant dialogue that I feel like I need to watch it again just to hear the stuff I was too busy laughing to make out the first time. So, awesome sense of humor and great dialogue. Another check. Looks like that just leaves the cast, which is...if you're picking up on the general trend so far...perfect. Between this and what I've heard about A Scanner Darkly, it seems as if Robert Downey Jr. is scoring the best roles of his career right now, and he effortlessly straddles that difficult line between comedy and stone-faced drama. Val Kilmer is awfully convincing as the narcissistic, overstarched gay P.I. with one of the ten greatest names in movie history. Despite not having nearly as much experience in front of the camera as her two co-stars, Michelle Monaghan proves to be more than just a pair of really nice legs, with the charming, extremely expressive actress more than holding her own.

This is Shane Black's first movie in how many years? First time directing? Really? You can tell that this is a movie that wasn't written-by-committee or watered down by an overanxious studio. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang plows forward with confidence and total self-assurance. Despite being much heavier on dialogue than action, the movie zips along at a surprisingly fast pace. The story's still being set up more than forty minutes in, but if not for the little counter on the front of my HD DVD player, I would never have guessed I was that far into the movie. Black takes an armful of very conventional elements and shapes them into something shiny and new. It's an extension of what he did with Lethal Weapon nearly two full decades prior, serving up tits, lots of violence, and a healthy smattering of black comedy. It embraces and satirizes all of the usual noir detective conventions, and the fourth-wall-shattering result is easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

Video: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a stylized, stylish flick, and it looks spectacular on HD DVD. The film's most immediately striking aspect is its use of color, with some scenes shot through heavily-tinted filters and others desaturated within an inch of its celluloid life. The 2.40:1 image is awfully pretty on HD DVD, and aside from the eye-catching colors, it's also razor-sharp and richly detailed. The movie's kind of a neo-neo-noir, and it follows that shadow detail is strong and black levels remain dark and inky throughout. Members of the Film Grain Defamation League should also be thrilled to hear that grain is tight and unintrusive throughout. I'm supposed to rate things with stars, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang deserves lots of 'em.

Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio is more traditional but still warrants heaps of praise. The film's endlessly quotable dialogue comes through without any concerns, never buried in the mix by John Ottman's fantastic score or the tight, punchy bass from colliding cars and ample gunfire. The audio doesn't hyperactively leap around from channel to channel like a lot of ADD action flicks, but the surround channels are used frequently and effectively. It's an especially well-balanced mix that impresses without resorting to gimmickry or overwhelming other elements of the audio in the process. Very nicely done.

There are two other Dolby Digital Plus tracks, including a 5.1 mix in French and a stereo Spanish dub. The usual assortment of English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also provided.

Supplements: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the fourth combo disc from Warner, and if you didn't get the memo, that means there's an HD DVD version on one side of the disc and a standard definition version you can give a spin in any DVD player on the other.

Previous combo discs have kept all of the extras on the standard definition side, so if you were watching the movie on your HD DVD deck and wanted to watch a featurette or something, you had to get up, flip over the disc, and wade through another set of studio logos and copyright warnings. The good news...? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has the same set of extras on both sides of the disc, so you can watch 'em while keeping your ass firmly planted on your couch. The bad...? There are apparently only two paragraphs' worth.

The meatiest of the extras is an audio commentary with writer/director Shane Black and actors Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. It's not one of those tracks that delves in depth into...well, anything, really: it's the three of them watching the movie and briefly responding to what's happening on-screen in between making fun of themselves and each other. Some brief comments about the art of screenwriting with a half-hour to go are as substantial as it gets, but I think I'd rather hear about having to use a specially licensed stunt kid to wield a chainsaw, the inconsistent heft of a corpse, digital pubic hair, and the pretentiousness of people who laugh at Shakespeare's comedies anyway. Lightweight but worth a listen.

Although gag reels are the bane of my life and existence, I kinda dug the four minute and change clip here, probably 'cause I liked the movie so much. It's standard but more watchable than average, not surprisingly consisting of the movie's three leads cracking up, missing cues, clowning around, and blowing lines. The gag reel is timecoded and letterboxed, and the movie's theatrical trailer is offered in anamorphic widescreen.

Conclusion: Unrelentingly witty and viciously clever, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang toys with audience expectations and up-ends genre conventions. Yeah, I know this is a Lazy Movie Reviewer Cliché, but it's a movie aimed squarely at people who love movies. Don't take that to mean that we're talking about something smarmy or inaccessibly arty, though: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is still a crowd-pleaser -- it's just an exceptionally well-made one. This isn't a flick that should've been dumped in a couple hundred arthouses; it could have and should have grossed ten times as much as it did. Do yourself a favor and at least rent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Even if you don't like the movie nearly as much as I do, the world will still be an incrementally better place for it. Highly Recommended.

The usual disclaimer: the screengrabs in this review were lifted from the DVD side of the disc to liven up what would otherwise be an awfully bland design and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on HD DVD.
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