Renowned film critic Pauline Kael entitled her 1968 book “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Appositely titled as she asserts that these simple words conveyed most efficiently the basic appeal of movies: A touch of romance followed by a ricochet of bullets in there somewhere. The lusty and the lurid, hopefully with love and laughs betwixt too. This week’s script highlight presents a hefty helping from both categories. It’s Shane Black’s 2005 neo-noir comedy-crime caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Partly based upon Brett Halliday’s 1941 mystery novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, this script is a first-rate example of melding the heartfelt with the hardboiled. And taking cues from literary detective gems of the past and whittling out something all too anew and fresh in the genre.
We’re introduced to the hapless and always harried Harry Lockhart. Loveable, loquacious, and likely to end up in a hoosegow. Trouble seeks out and finds Harry relentlessly. His face is a magnet for knuckle sandwiches. And he certainly has his fill throughout the course of the script. Though good-intentioned, his kidneys are eternally being kneaded by a wide variety of goons. Chivalric to a fault, here Harry intervenes with bruise-y results:
Dismiss the mounds of murders and film noir tropes and what we have here is a pretty jaunty romantic-comedy. There’s even a perfunctory meet-cute that’s by-the-books and ebullient with playful banter. Here’s Harry meeting our spunky heroine Harmony for the first time and trading jocular jabs:
I would submit that the romantic-comedy quality also pervades the platonic patter between Harry and his begrudging accomplice, Perry. There’s a brotherly blather that’s heavy on the histrionics and humor. The exchanges get heated and the dander rises readily, but the reader can also still hone onto the affection they harbor for one another. They bicker and scold like The Honeymooners. And it leavens the grisly narrative with just the right pinch of levity.
Again, a knucklehead. But a winsome one somehow.
The romantic-comedy angle is laid on thick and the mystery-thriller side even thicker. But not at all at the expense of the general madcap tomfoolery our hero finds himself in. He’s so bumbling and inept at times we can’t help but to look away and cringe at the buffoonery of it all. There’s a Woody Allen-perpetually-on-his-heels neurotic quality that really incites a surge in the audiences’ sympathy for him. That’s some skillful characterizing when we’re actively rooting for a fool.
Looping around back to that initial Pauline Kael reference about the title “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” she went on to claim, “this appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.” The statement is a mournful one. But solace can be found when auteurs like Shane Black deliver those basest of cinematic requisites whilst also imbuing the required ribaldry and violence with renewed meaning. Shane Black has an innate understanding of the sui generis alchemy when the sultry is sprinkled on the brutality. And this screenplay touts his keen cognizance of that.
So drop on by the library. Maybe stir the kettle a bit. Stick out a hat and see who shoots at it.
And Catalog. Sleuth around some.
For here be new scriptly nonesuch such as:
- FX’s anthology series Feud created by Ryan Murphy, Jaffe Cohen, and Michael Zam dramatizing the vast vitriol and everlasting vendetta between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
- Disney’s family-friendly and female-empowering visual feast Moana written by Jared Bush.
- The riveting and richly realized Netflix crime-drama Ozark created by Bill Dubuque.
- Season two of Love created by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust about the pratfalls, paradise, and perpetual penance involved in LA dating.