“This is one hell of a way to spend Christmas.”
--opening line from LAST ACTION HERO, possibly written by Shane Black
I stumbled onto a series of very enjoyable podcasts at blogging.la containing the various post film Q&As at the recent festival hosted by Edgar Wright at the New Beverly. Hearing Shane Black talk about a variety of topics including his directorial debut KISS KISS BANG BANG reminded me that we in L.A. are all pretty much in a Shane Black movie right now, it being Christmastime in L.A. Why he keeps on doing it is a mystery to me, but LETHAL WEAPON, the non-L.A. THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and KISS KISS all use the holiday as a backdrop. At a Motion Picture Academy anniversary screening of LETHAL WEAPON earlier this year, Black recalled a conversation with a Warner publicist while promoting the movie in ’87, where the publicist asked the then-23-year old, “So, were you in ‘Nam?” Black then commented that a version of the joke eventually wound up in DIE HARD. (This must be the “Just like fucking Saigon!” “I was in Junior High, dickhead,” exchange) So does this mean that Black worked on the script for DIE HARD? I’d never heard anything about that before. And is it possible that the Christmastime setting for the film was supplied by Black? Until I get to ask the guy myself, I’ll have to wonder.
I actually have been around him before, particularly at a few parties thrown at his mammoth house, but we never really met, so I have no colorful anecdotes about talking to the guy. But some of the vibe of those parties is very much in evidence in KISS KISS BANG BANG, a Los Angeles where the Christmas party is populated by very few people who seem to know the host and it all seems to be about networking.
KISS KISS BANG BANG is compulsively rewatchable, with a dynamic plot that does exactly what it wants to do: pay homage to the Raymond Chandler books it apes in the chapter titles throughout and also put a new spin on both them and the buddy movie genre. Even better is the chemistry between the lead characters played by Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan. If the movie had been a hit, it would have been great to get to see the three of them in another Black-penned scenario, sequel or otherwise. If there’s any real flaw in the film to me, it’s that the relationship between Downey, Jr.’s Harry Lockheart and Monaghan’s Harmony Faith Lane never really gets resolved. If anything, it seems to fall away after the climax in favor of ending with Harry and Kilmer’s Gay Perry. I like those scenes and I like the coda which feels like a reshoot, but it just makes the whole thing come up a little short.
It’s an annoying little nitpick, it really is, considering how damn entertaining the whole film is and that the movie was tossed away by its studio just means that there’s something wrong out there these days. The two male leads do some of the best work they’ve ever done, but it’s Monaghan who’s the real revelation, a genuine spitfire playing a character that is unique in films these days. I don’t believe that she’s thirty-four, but I do believe that she is beautiful, intelligent, vivid, vivacious…but also more than a little damaged, and unapologetic for it. And when Harry lets Harmony know how he feels, right now it makes me think of about two or three women I know who I’d like to go to right now so I can yell at them about they way they act sometimes…but also tell them in the best possible way how I really feel about them. It’s not gonna happen though, not right now, because I know for sure that I’d somehow screw it up.
It’s Christmastime in Los Angeles, as one of those trailers might have said. Los Angeles is vivid enough as it is, but it somehow becomes more vivid at this time of year, as if what you usually get from this city when just walking down the street becomes heightened at a time when you would think there’d be nothing more than people caroling. Shane Black must know that. Of course, there’s always the possibility that when walking down that street you just might get Harmony Faith Lane. I should be so lucky.