Sex and violence in the City of Angels on Christmas…
What the fuck is not to love about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?
It’s Shane Black’s directorial debut after a career of writing major action films like the Lethal Weapon intial duology, the incredibly misunderstood Last Action Hero and late action blockbuster titan Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout. So Black is no stranger to mixing the quips and relationships between the characters in with the thrills and the fights of the nefarious plots. He’s got his bits of slip-ups, namely in pacing and misunderstanding in how self-aware a movie can go before it either has to adopt a parody label or get annoying.
But what happens when you have to mix in the attributes of noir, now? Seems a mystery, maybe, for someone who has ridden on oh so many staples of action now needing to slow it down a bit? Especially on his first time behind the camera and not behind the typewriter?
Turns out to be no problem for Black. He brings such a outrageously obvious nighttime feel to Los Angeles that when all the other mystery attributes are shoehorned in, we’re game. What is missing, though, is a little dash of the hardboiled detective, fresh off the styles of Chandler and Leonard…
No wait, it’s there. It’s there in the character of ‘Gay Perry’ van Shrike, one of Val Kilmer’s best performances as a jaded, sarcastic Private Investigator who gets the short end of the client stick being hired by a film company to take the recently cast Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) around on the job to research for his role.
‘Me? No, I’m knee-deep in pussy. I just like the name so much, I can’t get rid of it.’
Gay Perry deserves his own paragraph, so here it goes. As an Arab, I do at points get exasperated at the stereotypes pointed out frequently towards my race. While some do it for parody or avoid the stereotypes all together, others just do it because it happens to be easier to write with. It even happens with some of my favorite movies. I have gotten used to it, but I don’t not completely approve still. One sort of social group I feel can relate to me on this might be the homosexual community. Almost everytime I see a gay character on tv or movies, he seems to only take the frail or flamboyant type of persona. Since I’m not gay, I can’t really speak for that group of people, so I don’t know if they take offense. But if it were me, I’d be pretty pissed.
Gay Perry is, easily, the badass of the film. He’s not frail. He doesn’t scream and run in flamboyant fashions (there’s absolutely flamboyance, but not to a cartoonish extent). He’s shaped very well into a whole being, who happens to be gay. He’s not used as a meat puppet for the development of another character in the film (*cough*DallasBuyersClub*cough*). If it wasn’t his nickname, it would still be obvious from subtle lines or the way he talks, Val Kilmer did an excellent job like that. He’s takes the bad guys down, he finds his way through the case. He’s a gay character in the sense of a black person being black, but he’s not a gay character, that’s not his defining trait at all, that’s not why he’s in the movie. He’s a hard-boiled Sam Spade-charming detective, who happens to be gay. The only other gay characters I can think of who fall under this are Omar Little from The Wire and Frank from Little Miss Sunshine.
Perry’s insults towards our unreliable narrator of Harry, Downey Jr.’s out of water criminal-turned-actor-turned-detective, make Val Kilmer the star of the movie. They are sharp and constant and biting. The real deal behind the movie is it’s banter between the two, the kind of stuff ‘buddy cop’ films are made of at their peak, now that Black is at the top of his screenwriting game with this project. It’s definitely the best project Black ever undertook.
Now of course, this is not to say Downey Jr. is not worth a damn. He easily makes his Lockhart his own in that patented RDJ manner of sarcasm and malaise in peril that wasn’t even made into such a trademark of his acting style yet (he wouldn’t portray Tony Stark yet until 3 years later, Black would join him in that project 5 years after that).
In the meantime, the rest of the cast, featuring Michelle Monaghan as, in the words of Toad from American Graffiti, ‘a bitching babe’ – a girl that Lockhart had pined for since high school but slept with practically everyone except him, the kind of girl that goes to L.A. to avoid her horrible life and live like a movie star like those old Hollywood stories – provide that L.A. nighttime characterization that Perry is always one step ahead of and Harry is always trying to figure which side is up in. It’s slick and it’s funny – the cinematography looks like a wish you were here card, except it’s only showing you crime and behind closed doors you’ll never get to open again. It plays off pretty much like a parody of a pulp novel. It pretty much is a parody of the pulp novel. It’s welcome entertainment for me and the fact that it’s a story that takes place around Christmas (featuring the most twisted Christmas celebration yet – that I love it so much) makes me right snug keeping warm for the holidays watching this. In fact, there’s something funny I hold against Shane Black – His movies are almost always set on Christmas but never released around Christmastime.
It leads me to make two huge assumptions about Black:
1. Christmas is the only holiday he knows.
2. He has no idea when it is.
Except I know better now.
Again, sex and violence in the City of Angels… What the fuck is not to love about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?
“Thanks for coming, please stay for the end credits. If you’re wondering who the best boy is, it’s somebody’s nephew, um, don’t forget to validate your parking, and to all you good people in the Midwest, sorry we said fuck so much.”