To put it simply, Shane Black's 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' is a hyper self-reflexive neo-noir meta comedy, a post-modern detective yarn for a generation more interested in referencing Raymond Chandler than actually reading him. Not merely the film that anticipated Robert Downey Jr.'s take on Tony Stark, 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' is also an epic parade of scenes we love where the good bits are great and the great bits are perfect. And even if it never ultimately coheres into a Movie We Love, it does feature Shannyn Sossamon in a pink wig, a lack of which (film scholars agree) is one of 'Double Indemnity's' most widely recognized flaws.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of seeing 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' you're probably just a bear who sucks the heads off of fish (or maybe you just happened to miss this one), but you should still watch this scene (there aren't even any spoilers -- expository dialogue aplenty, but it won't make a lick of sense to the uninitiated. Or the initiated). For those in need of a primer, Harry (RDJ) is a petty thief who stumbles into a NYC casting call as he tries to flee the scene of a crime, and the producers of the movie are so smitten with his "audition" that they immediately offer him the lead role and fly him out to Hollywood. Once there, he's paired with a private investigator by the name of "Gay" Perry van Shrike (a glorious final performance for slim Val Kilmer, as soon afterward the actor felt the need... the need to feed), with whom Harry is supposed to spend time as research for the part. Before long Harry has become involved in a kidnapping conspiracy and crossed paths with his childhood sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan), who -- believing the crook to be a real detective -- enlists him to solve the death of her potentially murdered sister.
The film is structured like a classic noir so the story is soon twistier than a contortionist with chicken pox, and eventually you begin to get a sneaking suspicion that those two plot threads are deviously related somehow. The whole thing is such a labyrinth you half expect David Bowie to show up and do a Magic Dance, but everything that 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' is really about can be found in this one scene.
Harry and Perry are finally starting to get somewhere with their investigation, so inevitably they're impeded by a villainous lackey who wants to dissuade / hurt / kill them. Unfortunately for the lackey, "Harry Can't Maths" (thanks, YouTube). This scene epitomizes what 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' does best, proudly (and loudly) trotting out genre conventions and then wittily defiling them to hilarious ends. It's a movie about the schism between movies and real life and about how often the former can inform the latter -- a movie wherein only the characters who best understand their part in the story have the power to bend it to their will. Shane Black is a talented screenwriter ('Lethal Weapon') whose career was devastated by a too-clever bomb ('Last Action Hero') or two ('The Long Kiss Goodnight'), but with 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' he used a thorough command of convention to his advantage, delivering a masterpiece of knowing winks and quips. It's a movie brought to you by cliche and ham-fisted logic, a film that stands on the shoulders of a hundred years of film, and this Scene We Love perfectly illustrates the deviously addictive methods with which Black lovingly plays his audience against their own expectations.
The lackey (Rockmund Dunbar) spouts some perfectly innocuous lackey dialogue, smacks Harry in the head with his gun, and then begins walking his two hostages back inside. He's blithely oblivious to the fact that Perry is describing in detail exactly how he's going to turn the tables, and it's important to note that Dunbar doesn't often look at his hostage during Perry's speech about disarming him, as the brief monologue is really intended for the audience alone (Dunbar's "drat!" show of frustration in the ensuing wide shot is tonally perfect). When our heroes finally get Dunbar on his knees and start to grill him, Perry goes into full-on movie mode, spitting out expository dialogue, informing his partner of all the angles, and altogether handling the situation with pre-scripted aplomb. As for Harry, well... unfortunately for the lackey, Harry doesn't handle the situation quite as well.
Perry -- an L.A. native -- can live his life as if he's in a movie, but Harry -- a New York transplant -- can only try. When Perry whips out vague threats that sound tough but are ultimately too ambiguous to stand up to scrutiny ("I want you to picture a bullet inside your head"), Harry can't let it slide. But when Harry decides to try some Hollywood menace on for size, the tragic probability of life as we know it puts a wrench in his plans (and a bullet in the lackey's head). Of course, the moment something goes wrong and someone gets seriously (and inconveniently) dead, the phone rings and the well-oiled story slides right back into gear, marrying real-world reasoning and an exacting plot
It's not necessarily the most pivotal scene in the movie, but it's one of the most fun, and it beautifully encapsulates almost all of the elements that conspire to make 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' something of a hyper-aware modern classic. At the very least, another fond look back at Shane Black's proudest moment might give you the motivation required to bother with Todd Phillips' 'Due Date' when it opens this weekend, reuniting Downey with Monaghan in a movie that the masses will actually see.