Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ★★★★½

Dismembered Remembered and Beaten to a Pulp

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is delightfully amusing, but then I'm already partial to pulpy detective mysteries and all the better if done with irreverent self-awareness. In addition to my just learning about so-called "Noirvember," and, like much of hardboiled detective fiction, this being largely indistinguishable from noir, I decided to rewatch this after reviewing another such detective mystery, although tending to be more subtle in its meta construction, and which also stars Robert Downey Jr., "Zodiac" (2007). The guy had more range than delivering quips within close-ups behind computer-interface overlays. Protocop turned "Iron Man 3" (2013), also written and directed by Shane Black. It's nice, too, that his huckleberry for the bromance part of the plot is another strong actor, Val Kilmer. It sure beats that time Downey teamed up with the guy from "The Hangover" twaddle.

Reflexively, Downey's recollected noir voiceover narration breaks the fourth wall in a direct address to the spectator, including admitting to messing up the plot at times--and freezing the film so that we see the divisions between individuals frames. Instead of simply being a gumshoe, too, he's a magician-turned-thief who pretends to be an actor who in turn pretends to be a detective. This in contrast to Kilmer's gay detective as well as Michelle Monaghan playing an actress who doesn't act. And, naturally, the case takes place in Hollywood and involves other actors and character doubles--two detectives, two fathers, two daughters, two sisters, two cases, two corpses, etc. And there's at least one film-within-film in addition to a commercial.

As based on a book, there's also the book series within the book, one of which the inner film is adapted from, and that resemble the very film we're watching and for which the chapter titles are taken from Raymond Chandler paperbacks. I even wonder if there's a double meaning to the main title, which may refer to both spy flicks such as those of James Bond and to another book, which was written by film critic Pauline Kael. Regardless, it's the sort of generic pulpy headline one might find on a trashy dime novel, or matinee movie, for that matter. I also love the literary attention to language here with characters constantly correcting and questioning each other's grammar and word choices. My favorite may be Downey's elaboration of the meaning of his own statement, of being physically sore and not sore like those angry guys from 1950s movies, i.e. film noir and the hardboiled detective of yesteryear. In this sense, he's more akin to the neo-noir sleuth of "Chinatown" (1974). Note that in that film, Jack Nicholson's character was sore from his nose being cut, which was a pun for him sticking his nose where it didn't belong or where it was dangerous to, for being nosey. Here, it's a finger and just as he's trying to put his finger on, to use another idiom, the dismembered and remembered case.

Too bad it wasn't his index finger, though, to point to the indexical quality of film, which itself, in the semiotic sense developed by C.S. Peirce, is a trace just as with a fingerprint or the other clues left behind at crime scenes, including the detective attempting to retrieve this finger at one point so as to prevent it from being another trace, or clue, to his presence at the site of a murder. Yet, to be fair, Downey's unreliable narration and the picture generally being a cheeky romp goes a long way to undermine the supposed indexicality of the photographic image--that is, that film is a representation of life. Like the detective-mystery genre, what is understood in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is that film is a game of narration between the reader and writer, or spectator and filmmaker. Detectives who read detective fiction and filmmakers who write or adapt their own crimes, as remembered by one of the participants--the narrative constructed, deciphered and reconstructed all at once as it happens. Clever and fun stuff.

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