On paper, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ought to be a film I absolutely love. Film noir homage? Check. Twisty turny crime plot? Check. Self-aware meta narration? Check. Robert Downey Jr? Check. Yet when I first saw the film several years ago I remember being underwhelmed and every time I’ve thought of the film since it’s been with a sort of vague discontent. But a lot of people who generally like the same stuff as I do constantly praise it and think it’s brilliant. I couldn’t really remember enough about the film to identify what it was that left me cold, so I figured it was time for a rewatch – maybe I’d get it this time, or at least be able to pinpoint what about it didn’t work for me.
The initial premise is pretty great, with RDJ as a small-time crook who stumbles into an audition as he’s running away from the cops after a badly botched job (in which his partner got shot and killed). Unwittingly playing along, he winds impressing the casting directors and is carted off to Hollywood, where he’s assigned to shadow a real detective (Val Kilmer) as preparation for this role he might get. Even though the detective, nicknamed Gay Perry (“because he’s gay”), insists that real life detective work is boring and not like the movies, bodies soon start piling up, seemingly unrelated events turn out to be intertwined, and RDJ ends up right in the middle of all of it. Meanwhile, he offers almost continual narration of the most self-aware type; he comments on how things like this play out in the movies (“don’t you hate in movies when it seems like that one guy died, and then it turns out he didn’t and jt’s so fake”) or how bad a narrator he is (going back to tell a part of the story he neglected to tell earlier).