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Critics Call Kiss Kiss Bang Bang What Movies are All About

Nov. 5, 2005 –– Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang borrows its title from legendary New Yorker magazine movie critic Pauline Kael's second book of film essays.
Kael had taken the title from an Italian movie poster. She called the phrase, "perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal," she said, "is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this."
It looks like Kael would not have despaired over this noir movie, a look at unlikely circumstances played by unlikely characters involved in a movie-murder-mistaken identity sort of thriller. Sort of.
Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune movie critic says, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang isn't necessarily a reservoir of deep meaning——it's more like a puddle that invites us to splash around. Only when we're wet and enjoying ourselves are we told it's a puddle of gasoline."
He calls it "a merry, deconstructive delight, and the best party in town." Ty Cobb in the Boston Globe must have been looking over Elder's shoulder. He writes, "Private-eye farce is the best party in town."
Now, the story. Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a petty thief, is running from a foiled robbery, when cops chase him into a movie audition, and a few days later he finds himself in Los Angeles, and in the middle of a murder mystery accompanied by private eye Perry Van Shrike, a.k.a. Gay Perry (Val Kilmer).
However, instead of auditioning Harry finds himself in hot water. Burr describes it: "Playing petty thief-turned-Hollywood-actor-turned-wannabe-detective Downey narrates his way through the byzantine plot like a man spinning tall tales, occasionally stopping to point out their absurdity. Several times, the film appears to jam in the projector gate while Harry berates himself for missing a key bit of information."
However, Burr, Cobb and other critics agree there is no "jam" in the film. Perry tells Harry that PI work is, basically, boring. However, about that time, a car with a dead woman in its trunk sails over their heads, setting the stage for a mystery where Harry may find himself the accused.
Burr says, "Gay Perry doesn't really want Harry around — ''Sleep badly; any questions, hesitate to call," he instructs his partner by way of saying good night — but he knows a good mystery when someone else bumbles into it.
"Much of the fun in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang lies in the piling of event upon surreal event," Burr says. "There are shady women in pink wigs, gunmen trying to banter Tarantino-style and failing, an unwanted minor amputation, and bullets that never land where they're meant to."
Written and directed by Shane Black, the critics are generous in praise for him as well as his stars. Elder says, "It's also a surprisingly confident comeback for Black … [his] retro-noir reminds us why we love movies: because they can surprise us, even when we're ankle deep in bullet casings, bodies and enough twists to tie us in knots."
If you are finding all of this a bit difficult to follow, rush to Market Square East or Sunny Isle Theaters and put all the pieces together. By all reports, Kael would have been there with bells on.
Rated R for language, violence and sexuality, it runs an hour and 42 minutes.
It is playing at Market Square East.

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