So, if I told you Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) is an action-comedy about Robert Downey Jr. being hilarious and teaming up with Val Kilmer playing a gay private detective, I could stop there and you’d see it, right?
I’m actually nearly convinced that Jon Favreau was watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang he decided to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, but saying that does somewhat of a disservice to Downey Jr.’s skills and his performance in this film. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Robert Downey Jr. is playing Harry Lockhart, a character who is much less confident and very much “in over his head” than Tony Stark in Iron Man. Despite this huge difference, what he shares in common with Downey Jr.’s later, more famous role is that he’s incredibly cocky but virtually impossible for the audience not to like.
Lockhart opens the film as a thief, with the rather comedic introduction of talking to his son on the phone to find out the name of an action figure he wanted for Christmas, pretending to be shopping while actually robbing the store. The robbery is interrupted by an alarm going off, and in the process of evading the police Lockhart stumbles into an acting audition. The reviewers mistake Lockhart’s genuine fear and distress as superior acting skills, and declare him brilliant.
This chain of events brings Lockhart to Hollywood, where he finds himself at a party also attended by struggling actress Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), and he naturally immediately falls head over heels for her. Like everything else in the film, the gradually developed relationship between Lockhart and Harmony is full of sharp comedy, but also a great deal of heart under the surface.
Val Kilmer as Gay Perry… well… I can honestly say Val Kilmer turned in a performance unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in his career, and that I respect him as an actor a million times more than I did before. I honestly think somoene could watch the entire film, and only during the ending credits exclaim, “That was Val Kilmer?” I knew it was Kilmer ahead of time, and still finished the film thinking, “I can’t believe I just saw that.”
Gay Perry is, to borrow my boyfriend’s assessment, a “gay action hero.” Kilmer’s performance as the incredibly blunt private detective alone would make this film well worth seeing, even if it were the only thing this film has going for it (it’s not.) His chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely sizzling, and I’m not just talking about the obligatory “quick, we have to pretend we’re kissing” scene.
Having Robert Downey Jr. narrate the film in character was a brilliant choice. Framing the film this way adds to the neo-noir feel of it, and allows metacriticism when Lockhart frequently makes comments like, “Yeah, I know, I hate it when movies do that,” in response to the structure of the film’s plot.
The mystery plot Lockhart and Perry find themselves embroiled in would actually be sufficiently engaging enough on its own that it didn’t need to be “carried” by the actors. Indeed, either element (the acting or the story) would have been sufficient to make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang an excellent film. There are just so many things to love about this film. I honestly have no idea how it wasn’t a massive blockbuster.