Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a World of Snark comedy-Film Noir. The story is a parody of pulp detective novels set in the modern Hollywood entertainment scene. The film was a critical success, but a box-office bomb.The film centers around — and is narrated by — Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.), a down-on-his-luck thief who is mistaken for a method actor by a couple of movie producers after he barges into their auditions while fleeing from the cops. They send him to to Hollywood for a screen test where he encounters private eye "Gay" Perry (Val Kilmer) and Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), his childhood crush from his own hometown. Perry is supposed to give Harry a few basic detective lessons to make him more believable in his role, but their very first job together sees them witnessing a murder and the dumping of the body.With a lot of bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and through several cases of mistaken identity, Harry finds himself embroiled in a real life murder-mystery... just like the pulp novels he used to read as a kid. Applying what he knows from his reading, Harry attempts to be the good guy for once, get the girl, and live happily ever after.
Harry: Fuck this. Corpses, guys in masks, people kissing — people. This is wrong.
Ate His Gun: Harmony's sister, who uses a shotgun for suicide.
Badass Bystander: When Perry is attacked by a Mook in a park, he is saved the trouble of a gunfight when a hot dog vendor pulls out a handgun and blows the Mook away. Apparently the vendor didn't appreciate it when the Mook drove his car into the hot dog stand.
Harry: Yeah, it's a dumb movie thing, but what do you want me to do, lie about it?
Bittersweet Ending: The case gets solved and the protagonists survive, but it doesn't change that Harmony's sister did kill herself, and both Dexter and Harmony's rapist father pay little retribution considering their crimes. One of the characters even notes that things turn bitter somewhat suddenly:
Harry: So much for un-reality. I said goodbye, watched Jonny's world go back on the fiction shelf. But while it lasted, brother, it was one for the books.
Breaking the Fourth Wall:Harry's narration is conscious of the fact that he's narrating a film. In the end, Harry and Perry suddenly address the audience.
Brick Joke: The 35 year old actress Harmony makes fun of at the bar reappears at the very end of the film starring in the same Generos beer commercial Harmony was in.
After Harry rips on the use of the Coincidental Broadcast trope (see below under Chekhov's Gunman), a few scenes later he watches a new broadcast in which, for no good reason, the location of the climax is mentioned, exactly as Harry complained about earlier.
Buffy Speak: Almost every time Harry has to explain something.
Butt Monkey: If someone is going to get smacked, tortured, beaten up or otherwise mangled, it's going to be Harry. No one else is even allowed to get shot near him without the bullet hitting him, too. Every single time. Slightly lampshaded.
Mook: You look chilly. Come back inside. Perry: Actually, I'm from back East. I'm kinda diggin' the cold. (Mook pistol whips Harry) Harry: Ow! Fuck! He's the one who said it!
Cerebus Rollercoaster: The movie frequently jumps between serious and funny. One notable scene has drugged Harry waking in a car, witnessing a murder, killing the mook in a cold, blind rage, having a dog steal and eat his finger, to breaking down on the phone to Perry.
Chekhov's Gag: Harry and Harmony's game of spot-the-celebrity-doppelganger ("Native American Joe Pesci", etc); a plot point later on is that Harlan Dexter hired a similar-looking actress to impersonate his daughter.
Chekhov's Gun: Perry's "faggot gun", a miniature derringer Harry finds in Perry's glove box. As Perry says, homophobes avoid patting down his groin when checking for guns, which he later uses to his advantage.
Also, the revolver planted in Harry's room: Harmony, unable to get a distant Perry's attention, accidentally drops and misfires it, warning and saving Perry; and Harry inadvertently fires it playing Russian Roulette with a mook, leading to Dexter capturing them.
Harmony's three friends apply to this: Flicka tells Harmony that Harry is a detective (causing Harmony to push him into taking her case), and later sees Harry at the airport where she inadvertently gives him a clue (by revealing Harmony is "Allison Ames"); and the "Homely Friend" and the waitress friend promptly return to cause more conflict between Harry and Harmony.
Chivalrous Pervert: Harry has a serious case of this - no problem hitting on, looking at, or sleeping with women, but he has deep issues with any unsolicited contact and is uncomfortable with "easy" Hollywood girls. Early on in the movie he gets beat up preventing a guy from groping a sleeping Harmony at a party, only to hit on her hours after, and then sleep with her friend. Later, he touches her breast to get a spider, and when says she didn't mind if he had copped a feel, he freaks out and says there's something wrong with her and the guys she hangs out with if she's become that blasé about being groped. He adamantly refuses "pity sex".
Contemplate Our Navels: A nice pause in the action where Harry looks back at his unrequited love's apartment and sighs.
Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Happens twice: When Harmony falls asleep at a party, her date feels up her thigh, prompting Harry to stand up for her and get beaten up in the process. When she faints later on, he tries to swat a spider from her cleavage, waking her up and making her think that he was groping her.
Electric Torture: Harry gets his genitals shocked by one of the villain's goons.
Harry: Don't worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I'm not going to end this seventeen times.
Enforced Method Acting: Inverted In-Universe with Harry's 'audition' in the beginning, where he's mistaken for an actor. Actually, he was running from the police and barged into the room by chance. It's perfect for the part he's reading from, however.invoked
Pink-Haired Girl: It's nothing against your boss. I'm grateful. I just — Mustard: I spoke to him. You'll never have to go through anything like that again. I swear. Pink-Haired Girl: Promise? Mustard: Yep. (He murders her.)
At the end of the second act, Harry and Harmony note that everything turned out like a Jonny Gossamer novel, except in the books he always ends up getting tortured before escaping and shooting a bunch of mooks. Come the real close of the case, Harry then ends up getting tortured before he and Perry escape and have a shoot-out with Dexter and his mooks.
When Harry is retrieving Perry's phone from his pocket after he gets shot, his ringtone is "I Will Survive". Of course he's Not Quite Dead.
Freudian Slip: When Harry is narrating as he stares at Harmony's chest in-story:
Harry: And yeah, looking back, I maybe should've said something, told her I wasn't really a nipple—DETECTIVE. Detective. Uhm, sorry...
Genre Savvy: References to Noir abound, and Harmony's extensive knowledge of pulp crime novels comes in handy. There turns out to be a reason for that - Harlan Dexter, who played Johnny Gossamer in an old movie and has all those novels at his home, is behind the crime.
Perry knows his film noir, too. Particularly the part about how mooks always stick guns directly against the hero's back, when professionals in real life know to never, ever do this.
Perry also uses his savviness to get out of another such situation, when he uses a homophobe's prejudices against him by keeping a tiny revolver stashed next to his crotch, knowing that the guy would never bother to check there.
Lampshaded the Obscure Reference: When two goons appear to accost Harry, one of them introduces himself and his colleague as "Ike, Mike, and Mustard"note Salt, Pepper, and Mustard, your standard-issue dinner condiments. Harry doesn't get it, and even the other goon outright agrees that it's pretty damn obscure, and the two start arguing over it.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: A lot could be written about the many different ways in which the fourth wall is nudged in this movie.
Characters frequently comment on the quality of the writing, catching each other on misused phrases, overly obscure references. At one point a man complains that the death threat he's receiving is grammatically ambiguous.
At the climax as Gay Perry is about to explain the plot to Harry and Harmony he says "Do you see where I'm going with this?" Equally him talking the characters and the writer talking to the audience.
Male Gaze: Harry misses plot point 2 because he's staring at Harmony's chest. Lampshaded because he's also narrating and commits a Freudian Slip while he's trying to relate the plot point.
Medium Awareness/No Fourth Wall: Harry is completely aware that he is narrating a story, but it takes a unique twist when he's even aware of stuff happening in the movie; during one flashback sequence, he even points out a bad camera shot:
Harry: I don't want to put this on you, but if you've been paying attention, I shouldn't have to— great, no wonder, Ma and Pa Kettle. [sarcastic] "I got an idea, why not put these two lame-o extras in front of the mammoth fucking lens?" Boo! Scat! Fat lady, leave!
Metaphorgotten: When the mooks at the Christmas party appear: note For the record, "Ike and Mike" are old-timey nicknames for salt and pepper, so "Ike, Mike and Mustard" are your standard-issue diner condiments. It's also a metaphor-whin-a-metaphor: "salt and pepper" is slang for white-black mixed-race pairing, which the mooks are, which makes Harry the mustard. The term itself makes sense, but the metaphor itself is still distorted.
Mook 1: Well now, here we all are. Ike, Mike and Mustard. Harry: What the hell does that mean? Mook 2: You know, I'm with him on this one, man. That's pretty fucking obscure. Mook 1: Horse shit, I hear that all the time! [...] Mook 1: You wanna know who we are? I'm the frying pan, see? And my boy over here, he's - Mook 2: Mustard. I'm Mr. Mustard, baby.
Mood Whiplash: For some reason, the topic of Harmony's sister Jenna just sucks all the comedy out of the room. This is lampshaded in the end by Harry's narration.
Never Suicide: It actually is a suicide, even though the characters assume it isn't and the suicide fits cleanly into one theory on what happened.
Nonchalant Dodge: Perry wins this award for insulting a roomful of party-goers, then deftly ducking a bottle thrown at him without so much as a blink.
Not What It Looks Like: A funny example. Perry forcibly kisses Harry to make some cops move along. Harmony witnesses the kiss and asks why they were making out. Cut to Harry VOing that he managed to convince her he wasn't gay and that he's not going to tell us how.
Red Herring: The murder case involving Harmony's sister Jenna. Granted, it is one of the events that sets the main plot in motion, but the case itself turns out to be a standard, pretty irrelevant case of suicide.
Harry: I BET you if you look in their childhood, there is something rotten in Denver. Harmony: Denmarknote In the state of Denmark.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: Harry interrupts Mr. Fire's "tough guy" speech with a few bullets to the chest.
Sleeps with Everyone but You: Harmony slept with every guy in high school but Harry, who was her Unlucky Childhood Friend, and his friend Chutney out of loyalty to Harry. Except that she slept with Chutney, too. Needless to say, Harry is not pleased to learn this.
The Snark Knight: Perry tries to pass himself off as this. ("I'm not a good guy.") It's evident that he's noble at his core.
Stop Helping Me!: Harry kindly asks Perry to quit antagonizing Aurelio, the man who has just strapped electrodes to Harry's privates. However, the trope is usually invoked by Perry, who often has the situation in hand until Harry comes bumbling through it.
Straight Gay: "Gay" Perry, who is a badass and generally avoids gay stereotypes. On the other hand, he has several Camp Gay moments, such as having "I Will Survive" as a ringtone.
Harmony: She predicted that murder, Harry! She sent you and Perry to that exact spot! Harry: That whole thing is wild. You know what else is nuts? THAT YOU CUT OFF MY FINGER!
Take That: Harry gets several, mostly at other movies.
Taking the Bullet: Subverted. Perry puts himself between Harry and a mook, simultaneously shooting the mook and taking a bullet... but the bullet goes straight through Perry and hits Harry anyway.
There Is Only One Bed: Harry initially claims to be fine with sharing chastely, but gets uncomfortable when she cuddles up to him and he gets a boner.
This Is Reality: Perry. "Do not play detective. This is not a book. This is not a movie."
This is also the main point of the film: tearing down all the palatable trappings of a cool detective story, leaving a very sour reality-based story, but with a veneer of winks-to-the-audience and snappy banter reminding us why the fake stories are fun in the first place.