Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang features a workmanlike story straight out of the Johnny Gossamer crime novels it references so prominently. There’s nothing exceptional about the plot to separate it from typical modern crime fiction—there’s the murdered girl, the body double, the suicide, the false ending, the two cases that become one, all the usual hijinks. Instead of the plot, it is the film’s humor, its dialogue, and the standout performances of its lead trio (Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan) that lift Kiss Kiss Bang Bang above its genre competition.

Punk rock Steven Seagal thinks it's special.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Harmony and Harry at the Domino Room.

However. Just because a plot is conventional does not mean it is poorly made; just because a plot is conventional doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve its film well. A familiar plot is a comfort to audiences, who rely on the well known conventions of genre to better understand and relate to the drama unfolding before them. A familiar plot makes the audience feel smart, and who doesn’t like feeling smart?

Gay Perry

Look up “idiot” in the dictionary. Know what you’ll find?

Harry

A picture of me?

Gay Perry

No. The definition of the word “idiot,” which you fucking are.

Also there’s this: Just because a plot is conventional, just because it’s familiar, doesn’t mean it’s easy to write.

In a discussion with Brian Helgeland, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang screenwriter Shane Black once reacted with horror to the news that Helgeland creates extremely detailed outlines of his projects before he’ll let himself start writing. “Why would you do that?” Black asked. “That’s like hammering a nail into your own thumb.”

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Harmony picks up Harry's finger.

Looking at the storyclock above, though, it’s hard to imagine Black working without at least some sort of outline. The film is loaded with setups and payoffs and reversals in a well-structured plot that only pretends to be haphazard with all of Harry’s narrated apologies and meta-digressions.

But what do I know? I’m a bear. I suck the heads off fish.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is very (very!) loosely based on the old pulp novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, and Black has been quoted as saying that he’s read so many of these books that he’s able to pull plot gems out of his head to repurpose them in his own stories. But one would imagine that his writing process is something more than just throwing shit at a wall and then paring it back until only the good stuff is left.

Harry

I got 5 bucks says you could still get him.

Gay Perry

Really? That's funny. I got a 10 says pass the pepper. I got two quarters sing harmony on "Moonlight in Vermont."

Harry

What?

Gay Perry

Talking money.

Harry

A talking monkey?

Gay Perry

A talking monkey, yeah, yeah. Came here from the future. Ugly sucker. Only says "ficus."

The real magic of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, as mentioned above, is in the dialogue and the performances. It was something of a risk at the time to cast Robert Downey Jr., pre-Iron Man and coming off a lifetime of personal troubles. Likewise, Kilmer has a deserved reputation for difficulty. But movies are collaborative efforts, and sometimes the chemistry of the collaboration leads to something so much more than the sum of the parts.

Who taught you math?
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Perry kisses Harry.

Read this screenplay draft and you’ll see an earlier version of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The finished movie trims back a lot of the fat and streamlines the story. We can’t see how much of the improvement was made in later written versions, on the set, or even in the editing room after filming. But what we’re left with in the end is a film that’s loaded with narrative drive and that pulls the viewer from scene to scene with ease, making old ideas seem fresh again.

Just don’t ask me to explain that last Genaros ad.

Double Feature Suggestion
Screenplay Link
I shot him with a small revolver I keep near my balls.

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I'll be over there with Native American Joe Pesci.

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