Hippo Manchester
November 24, 2005

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Film: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (R)
by Amy Diaz

Robert Downey Jr. endears with his meta-tastic voice-over narration and his performance as a twitchy burglar who stumbles into the film business in the noir romp Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

This is probably not what anyone involved with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang wants to hear but this movie is awfully cute. It gives us a trio of good guys whose characters are an appropriate mix of awful and charming, mysteries that have an old-fashioned Nancy-Drew-gone-pulp-detective quality to them (the movie makes constant reference to the detective stories of a pulply series about PI John Gossamer) and a Los Angeles that is the perfect mix of sleaze and glitz, 1950s-style.

And then there’s that narration. Downey tells the story with plenty of pauses to comment on the hokey nature of movie conventions (the shot of the cook in The Hunt for Red October, the 16 endings of Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, the unlikely vitality of character shot nine times). He talks to, flirts with and gently cons the audience into following, if not believing, his improbable tale.

Harry (Downey) is a thief, a bad one, who is nearly pinched while stealing a toy to give to some unseen relative for Christmas. He escapes by running into an audition for some part in a cop movie and lands the role because his lines so closely mirror what happened to his partner in crime just minutes earlier. Whisked to L.A., Harry finds himself in the care of Perry (Val Kilmer), a private investigator who serves as consultant on crime movies. He attempts to teach Harry the PI ropes while on a routine stakeout, which quickly turns weird when the pair find themselves in possession of a dead body. Harry juggles his sudden involvement in some sort of criminal conspiracy with the surprise appearance of his high school sweetheart Harmony (Michelle Monaghan). Actually, Harmony was less Harry’s sweetheart than every other boy’s sweetheart and the object of Harry’s desire. When he finds Harmony again in L.A., now a failed actress with a wicked potty mouth, he’s still encrushed of her and so passes himself off as a real private investigator when she comes to him when her little sister is found dead. The police say her sister killed herself but Harmony believes it was murder.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is nonsensical junk but what makes the movie not just tolerable but genuinely entertaining is that it knows it’s nonsensical junk. The story is hokey and predictable, the dialogue (when it isn’t being snarkily clever) is cheesy and the acting has a tipsy nonchalance to it. But, golly, when paired with a neediness as strong and flattering as Downey’s, all that ham is hard to resist.

Pointless? Yes. Gratuitous in both violence and occasional nudity? Sure. Self-indulgent to the point of being masturbatory? Totally. But hey, this holiday season, something this snack-food wonderful might be just exactly what you’re looking for.