They say you can’t synthesize affection and affluence, but you can’t impose guilt upon Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) for making an attempt. He’s been beaten from a career of crime in New York City to Hollywood since he accidentally auditioned for a lead role in an upcoming studio movie portraying the role of a Detective. Harry will be trained for the part by shadowing a private investigator named Perry (Val Kilmer). But Harry’s overall objective during the pseudo-life he now lives is to persuade his childhood crush Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan) that he’s really who he says he is. Hollywood reel life coincides with Harry’s real life in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the feature film directing debut of Shane Black, who directed the hell out of a hard-edged, cynical film-noir. Val Kilmer plays a case-hardened private eye and Robert Downey Jr. a foolish thief with schemes up his sleeve, wearing a new hat and falling in love with the girl of his dreams, Michelle’s Harmony – a striving actress from the Midwest who moves to Hollywood and pursues her life dream.
The voice-over narration is taken at the helm with Robert Downey Jr.; this is a technique employed to supplement the audience with information; one that is seldom necessary, but a creative layer is added to the canvas. Harry (Robert Downey Jr.) ends up at a lavish Hollywood party and director Shane Black employs techniques used in ‘60s Suspense cinema as he cuts to a flashback of Harry robbing a toy store in New York City. After being chased by NYPD through the alleys and byways, Harry inadvertently ends up inside an audition room for a feature film. Harry fronts as an actor, and his natural fear lands him the part. A thief putting on a front, has now become someone he never imagined: an actor in Hollywood.
In terms of cinematography, the lenses used on the camera during filming appear to make the characters look lean and tall. The lighting of the exterior scenes of the rain-swept streets in NYC are elaborate; an impressive job by the DP and Gaffer considering the film’s $15 million budget. The lighting constantly changes according to the mood of the characters within any given scene, and the film appears de-saturated for a period-look since many frames contain bright spots. “Filming is a battle against time.” Shane Black says, referring to the daily shooting schedule involved with filmmaking and how time is never on a director’s side. A great portion of the film is shot on-location in the Hollywood Hills in addition to the Highland and Cahuenga areas. Harmony’s apartment is on the Venice Beach boardwalk. The climax was shot on-location in Long Beach. Considering the film’s limited resources; it doesn’t look cheap by any means. Instead, it represents itself as a fully realized piece of cinema history.
The screenplay is filled with dialogue that keeps the ball of humor constantly rolling. The script has scenes where gunplay is concerned, and are directed with tremendous intensity; equivalent to a shootout sequence from Eli Roth’s Death Wish (2018). Dead bodies flying out of The Standard in downtown L.A. are the norm for this film. Harry finds himself nonchalantly sharing space with corpses, then we remember we’re watching a fairy tale about a professional thief who’s trapped in Hollywood disguised as an actor. Downey Jr.’s performance is filled with starry vehemence; his character’s frustration builds up to a heart-rending outburst of air rage to Harmony; a love induced anger that wants her to be something she’s not. Shane Black’s directing style implements comedic relief in the following scene, as Harry inadvertently urinates on a drunk girl who blacked-out in the bathroom – the push/pull dark-comedy technique. Once the plot is revealed to the audience, and anticipation levels are heightened for what’s coming in the next scene, Shane Black throws a curveball with a sequence that has Harmony accidentally cut-off Harry’s finger after slamming the front door in her Venice apartment. From this point forward, Downey Jr.’s character grows delirious as drastic situations become humorous to him.
Along with voice-over narration, Shane Black uses a similar technique with music cueing on characters’ emotions; these are strategically utilized in post-production to invoke emotions within the audience on any given cue. With voice-over narration, a director is telling his audience what to think, whereas with music cueing, a director is telling the audience how to feel. Seldom are these techniques necessary; they’re tools in the shed, and in certain cases they add layers to the canvas. An amusing aspect that represents the tribulations of filmmaking is the fact that the film has rain swept streets; it never actually rained in the movie. Perhaps, it was written with rain on the page, but the budget must have not been equipped to utilize available finances on fake rain. What’s most impressive is how Shane Black includes sequences that hit certain marks so the audience can take a break mentally, and avoid paying attention to what’s happening on-screen. Average audience attention spans usually extend to 28 minutes, and it’s the implementation of these methods that make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang a significant picture; it’s designed to be unconsciously comprehended with the push/pull formula of a dark-comedy. Three acts of storytelling have marks at every 28-minute point with a sequence that permits audiences to mentally check-out to remove the gunk in their mind in order to re-set for the next 28-minutes of focus. A formula, nonetheless.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang grossed $15,785,148 on a $15 million budget. It won for Best Thriller at the Empire Awards in the United Kingdom and was nominated for the Golden Camera at the Cannes Film Festival.