Perry: Merry Christmas, sorry I fucked you over.
Harry: No problem. Don’t quit your gay job.
Not exactly typical dialogue for a Christmas movie and yet Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is filled with these zingers as well as appropriate amounts of holiday merriment. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a 2005 film noir disguised as a Christmas movie … disguised as a film noir.
However, before we talk about 2005, let’s talk about 1996. Weird, I know. In 1996 (and subsequently, through 2001), actor Robert Downey Jr. had numerous run-ins with the law. Mainly for drug related crimes (cocaine, heroin, marijuana), Downey Jr. was in a tough place. It was really hammered home in 1999 after relapsing again, when Downey Jr. told a judge that: “It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.” In 2001 after failing another drug test, he was dismissed from the Ally McBeal show. Needless to say, things were a mess.
Flash forward to the early 2000’s. Downey Jr. began to get his act together. He begun reappearing in smaller films such as: A Guide to Recognizing your Saints, A Scanner Darkly and Good Night, and Good Luck. Now, the year is 2005, movies like Capote, Brokeback Mountain, and Walk the Line are coming out. Unbeknownst to them, a small comedy was being released in late October. That film was Shane Blacks directing debut, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. We’ve already mentioned Shane Black (who wrote movies like Lethal Weapon, Predator, Monster Squad) in a previous installment of “It’s a Christmas Miracle” (discussing Iron Man 3). However, before he sat in the big-boy Marvel chair, he’d first introduce us to Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry.
The opening scene of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang shows Robert Downey Jr’s. character treading water at a Christmas party in the superficiality of L.A. Downey looks as if he has been put through the meat grinder, out of place and bemoaning in noir voice-over of how last Christmas was world-changing, or, as his character Harry so succinctly puts it, “now I go to parties where if a girl is named Jill, she spells it J-y-l-l-e; that bullshit? Welcome to L.A. Welcome to the party.”
We then flash back to learn that Harry was once a small time crook on the east coast. We join in on a particular Christmas robbery as it’s botched, Harry then gets shot in the arm and accidentally stumbles into an audition that becomes real when the read-through scene serendipitously speaks to what has just unfolded in Harry’s real world.
Now, based off of that audition, Harry has been brought to Los Angeles to screen test for the movie in question, with the help of Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a consultant that the production company has hired, also for the film in question. So is Gay Perry actually gay? “Gay? Oh, no. I’m knee-deep in pussy. I just like the name so much I can’t get rid of it.” So, Yes, is the answer to that question. Perry is also a private detective who the producers hope will drop some pearls of wisdom onto Harry and prep him for his big screen debut.
Then we have Harmony (Michelle Monaghan). She’s a small town girl with big city dreams who read copious amounts of pulp fiction featuring Johnny Gossamer, private detective, as a child which helped develop her acting bug. Turns out Harry and Harmony used to be friends when they were kids and by some simple twist of fate, they are at the same Christmas party. Things start well but end badly for their rekindled relationship, but it’s nothing that Harry can tend to at the moment, because he has a date with Gay, one that has them witness to a car they are tailing suddenly careen into a lake. Perry is able to save a girl from the sinking auto, but she is already quite dead. When two ski-masked men enter the picture and Perry realizes he has been hired to witness a murder, things escalate rather quickly for the newbie actor and the private detective.
But, it’s only after Harry finds out from the police that Harmony has killed herself … only to find her at his doorstep hours later. It was, in fact, Harmony’s sister who committed suicide and found with Harmony’s ID on her. Believing that Harry is a real detective and that her sister did not take her own life, she asks for his help to find her sister’s killer, to which he reluctantly agrees. Could it be that this case and the lady in the lake are somehow connected? Definitely. How are they connected? That’s not as clear and that’s the fun of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a phenomenal film. Incredibly funny, the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer is off the charts. As highlighted throughout this article, there are a number of quotable lines, and there are some great action set-pieces. It’s no big surprise either, seeing that Shane Black also wrote Lethal Weapon, a film that has multiple similarities.
The Christmas spirit is alive and well throughout Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. From the opening holiday themed party, to Harry’s failed heist to get his nephew the perfect christmas present, all the way to Harmony running around during the climax of the movie in a scantily clad Mrs. Claus outfit. There’s something for everyone.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an important film in that it put Downey Jr. back on the map for most people. While the movie didn’t make a metric ton of money, it has been lauded as a “cult classic.” Also, given the various peaks and valleys of his career, It was great to see Downey Jr. turn in a performance, seemingly out of nowhere, that reminded people what a capable and stupidly talented artist he is.
Ya know, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starts with Harry Lockhart committing petty robbery in the hopes of making his nephews holiday bright … and it ends with him solving a murder mystery, saving numerous lives, and reclaiming some semblance of a normal life.
If that’s not Christmas Miracle, then I don’t know what is.