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THIS REVIEW DEALS WITH GRAPHIC VIOLENCE AND GRAPHIC SEXUAL CONTENT. IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy, Drama, Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Cast
Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart; Val Kilmer as "Gay" Perry; Michelle Monaghan as Harmony; Corbin Bernsen as Harlan Dexter
Director
Shane Black
Distributor
Warner Bros.
Reviewer
Adam R. Holz
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A thief masquerading as an actor pretending to be a detective, a gay private eye and a wannabe starlet race to unravel a dark murder mystery.

Sometimes, things don't go as planned. That's certainly the case for small-time thief Harry Lockhart. A shocking series of events is set in motion when a toy-store robbery goes bad, leaving his partner in crime dead and Harry on the run. He ducks breathlessly into a casting call—it is Hollywood, after all—and assumes the role of an aspiring actor in order to elude police pursuit. It works. And Harry's dramatic entrance wins the heart of the director, ushering him into Hollywood's decadent underworld.

This unlikely (and darkly comedic) scenario twists even more unbelievably when Harry meets homosexual private eye to the stars "Gay" Perry and falls for perpetually aspiring actress Harmony at a Hollywood soiree. Harmony invites him to keep drooling. While Perry invites him to hone his acting skills by pretending to be a detective and helping him out with a job—a job that ends up threatening the lives of all three.

Positive Elements

For an R-rated action/mystery/comedy full of obscene content, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang delivers a remarkably serious message: Incest destroys lives. Early on, we learn that Harmony ran away from her home in Indiana to escape an incestuous father. Her father never preyed upon her, but frequently abused her sister. And that abuse leads to her death.

The girls' father is told by Perry—who accompanies his words with punches—that he was the one who pulled the trigger; it just took 20 years for the bullet to reach her. When the dad accuses Perry of persecuting a defenseless old man, Perry just looks at him with contempt, and behind his eyes you can read the words that he doesn't say: that the father deserves everything he gets and more because he has done something much worse to a young girl who was equally unable to defend herself.

Meanwhile, Harmony's response to watching her sister slowly die at the hand of their father is to sleep with pretty much every guy she can in high school, and then continue her promiscuity as an adult. In addition, the film implies that Hollywood mogul Harlan Dexter may have sexually abused his daughter, Veronica, before she is murdered.

This recognition of incest's destructive power is further reinforced by two scenes Harry and Harmony share. At the Hollywood party, Harry confronts a man who is groping Harmony. (She has passed out from drinking too much.) Harry refuses to let him accost her, to the point that they end up in a fistfight outside. Days later, Harry notices a large spider crawl into the again-unconscious Harmony's bra. He's unsure how to deal with this unusual problem, and responds by flicking at her breast. Harmony wakes up and thinks he's taking advantage of her, but then relaxes and assures him that "guys grab [you]. That's life, no biggie." Harry is appalled at her response and argues strongly that a man touching her without permission is a big deal. He wonders out loud how a woman could get to the point where she would consider such treatment to be so inconsequential. Why does she feel this way? Her father. And Harry goes so far as to comment that many promiscuous actresses in Hollywood are probably there because they are on the run from sexually abusive family situations.

Harry assures Harmony that he's not interested in "younger" and "better" women; he's interested in her. And he eventually confesses that he's been lying to her about his occupation, and that he's actually a thief.

Spiritual Content

Veronica Dexter is repeatedly—somewhat derisively—described as "a born again."

Sexual Content

Nudity. Sex scenes. Homoerotic performance art. The sexual content in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is both frequent and extreme.

Harmony is seen topless; on one occasion she strips down to only a thong. So dressed, she invites Harry to sleep in her bed with her. She begins touching him, but they quickly get into an argument and separate. (The topic of their argument is of note, since it revolves around Harry not wanting her to give him sex "as a favor" just to meet his physical "needs.")

Harry gets drunk and spends the night with one of Harmony's friends. The camera watches as the pair wakes up in bed the next morning.

Harmony consistently wears cleavage-revealing outfits and short skirts. (One scene shows Harry obsessively ogling her chest.) There's also some attention given to the fact that a dead girl's lack of panties is a clue to the murder mystery.

A decadent party features several groups of male and female models striking sexual poses and making sexual movements while on display inside glass cages. At that party, a group of three men simulate homosexual contact (no nudity); two other women are topless (one wears pasties). Topless women are given screen time in at least two other scenes, one of which is a sex scene. Nude pictures are seen on the covers of pulp fiction novels.

Harry, Perry and Harmony watch a pornographic video to get clues for the case they're on. (Moviegoers don't see more than the clothed intro.) A woman in a mental facility hikes up her gown (off-camera) to reveal that she's not wearing anything underneath. Characters make several slang references to oral sex.

In addition to this pervasive content, Perry's homosexuality is referred to frequently, often in comedic dialogue ("Don't quit your gay job"). To distract police from a corpse they're loading in the trunk, Perry grabs Harry and gives him a lingering kiss. (Harry is disgusted, however, and there's never any hint that he's now interested in exploring any latent homosexual feelings.) Perry shoots a gun he has stashed next to his genitals, and the action and dialogue that surrounds this moment are filled with gay gags and come-ons.

I should point out that Perry is not a stereotypical gay character. He's not portrayed as effeminate, but rather as a strong, capable man. He doesn't lisp. He doesn't have a limp wrist. Etc. As homosexual characters show up with increasing frequency on the big screen (and the small one, too), expect to see more who defy the "gay shtick" like Perry does. (In doing so, they will help further cement our cultural acceptance of homosexuality.)

Violent Content

Violent scenes go head-to-head with sexual ones as they vie for the most screen time. Early on, Harry's robbery partner is shot in the face and killed. A man in a robot suit falls over a railing and is killed. And at least half-a-dozen characters are shot and killed in the second half of the movie. In self defense, Harry shoots a man in the chest at point-blank range five times. He does so after witnessing him kill a woman.

Harry and Perry pull Veronica's corpse from a car's trunk. (She has a bullet hole in her head.) After that, her body is subjected to a gruesome comedy of errors. Harry accidentally urinates on it. It's thrown off the roof of a building. It bounces off a dumpster. And, finally, after it's supposedly safely encased in a casket, the casket shoots out of the van it's riding in, opens up and comes to rest on a freeway sign. (Harry grasps her dead arm to save himself from falling.)

Harmony slams a door on Harry's hand, cutting off one of his fingers. A graphic scene shows doctors reattaching it, but Harry doesn't have the digit back very long before one of the goons who's interrogating him pulls it off again. Harry then keeps the detached finger in a bowl of ice—until a dog finds it, drags it around for a while and eventually eats it.

In what is easily one of the movie's most gratuitous scenes, a henchman tortures Harry by hooking up an electro-shock therapy machine to his genitals and shocking him. (The camera can't quite see everything.)

Harry is eventually hit with a bullet. As is Perry. Harmony is forced to jump off a bridge; she lands in a crumpled heap. A thug hits Harry in the head with his gun; Harry later returns the "favor." Harry gets into a fistfight with another man at a party, and they trade several hard body and head shots. Harmony kicks an attacker in the crotch while he's choking her, then head butts him.

Crude or Profane Language

Shortly after meeting, Harmony informs Harry, "I swear a lot." And in a final scene, Perry says condescendingly to the camera, "For all of you good people in the Midwest, I'm sorry we said 'f---' so much." Both admissions are actually understatements, as characters spew well over 100 f- and s-words, rough up God's or Jesus' name almost 50 times and utter another 30 milder profanities. Extremely vulgar terms for male and female anatomy are used once each.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Most of the characters in the film frequently smoke and/or drink (both beer and hard liquor). Twice when Harmony is very drunk, it leads to sexual encounters. Once, Harry's drunkenness puts him in bed with someone. Harmony's only acting success is in a beer commercial (two versions of which are shown during the movie).

Harry gets woozy from painkillers after he loses his finger. Another scene shows him taking a mouthful of pills—which he spits out reflexively when he finds a corpse in his bathroom.

Conclusion

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang follows in the film-noir footsteps of Pulp Fiction. And there's little more I should need to say about it. It may not be quite as viscerally shocking as Quentin Tarantino's infamous film, but it certainly exploits its R-rating, assaulting audiences with hetero- and homosexual imagery and innuendo, gruesome violence and constant vulgarity—not to mention the perversely comedic plight of a corpse that has a couple of really bad days.

All of this effort is marshaled, oddly enough, to drive home the film's undeniably positive message that incest irrevocably damages its victims. So in the process of raising our righteous ire over the horror of sexual abuse, we're subjected to a barrage of gratuitously abusive images, situations and dialogue ourselves. I'm hard put to remember the last time I agreed more with a movie's main lesson, yet felt so pummeled by the way it got delivered.

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