KISS KISS BANG BANG – HARD BOILED, FUNNY & BLACK
The young man who created the Lethal Weapon franchise, Shane Black, has
written and directed the film he must have been born to give the world, Kiss
Kiss Bang Bang, a hard boiled, funny, black buddy action movie, which breaks
every self referencing rule by turning itself inside out.
There had never been a story like it before.
In 1986, a 23 year-old recent UCLA graduate, Shane Black, finished a draft of
his first screenplay. Within a week, producer Joel Silver optioned it, and
together with director Richard Donner they ushered in a new era of filmmaking
with Lethal Weapon, a character-driven hybrid of comedy and the
adrenaline-fuelled action genre emerging under the auspices of Silver, producer
of the seminal action films Commando and Predator.
"a unique voice"
Starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as mismatched cops battling a
drug-smuggling ring, Lethal Weapon established Black’s his flair for creating
characters as explosive as his frenetic action sequences and dialogue to match.
Its blockbuster success spawned three Lethal Weapon sequels, influenced a
generation of filmmakers and set the bar for countless imitations.
A new genre was born: the buddy/action movie.
“Shane has a unique voice that comes through in everything he writes,” says
Silver, who helped to reinvent action filmmaking in 1988 with Die Hard and again
in 1999 as the producer of The Matrix. “Whether he’s honoring the conventions of
the genre or deliberately defying them, he always brands his films with original
characters, innovative action and memorable dialogue. His writing style is as
entertaining as the movies that wind up on the screen.”
“The films that interest me tend to be those that combine two elements in a way
that we haven’t seen before,” says Black, whose Lethal Weapon screenplay paired
a a veteran detective with a suicidal younger cop whose unorthodox behavior sets
off a surprising mix of comedy and suspense.
Black first visited the detective myth in Silver’s 1991 production The Last Boy
Scout, a buddy/action picture starring Bruce Willis as a down-and-out private
eye looking for redemption when he teams up with a disgraced ex-quarterback,
played by Damon Wayans, to investigate corruption in the high-stakes world of
professional football. His forceful 1996 script, The Long Kiss Goodnight,
features a fourth-rate P.I. played by Samuel L. Jackson who discovers that Geena
Davis’ amnesiac schoolteacher is actually a deadly secret agent working to
overthrow the government.
Black’s drive to explore the action/crime milieu was greatly influenced by his
boyhood obsession with detective novels – cheap paperbacks populated with hard
boiled private eyes and dames in distress; risque stories where two seemingly
unrelated cases intersect in a confluence of scandal and murder, and bittersweet
justice always prevails.
“I read The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators, the suspense fiction
intended for kids, but my childhood heroes tended to be in the adult section of
the library,” Black says. “I loved detective stories, and I devoured them. I’ve
literally read hundreds of them. I wasn’t allowed to read them when I was a kid
because they were racy, so I would sneak them. I’d save my lunch money – I
wouldn’t eat for three days so I could buy the new Mike Shayne book, or the new
Shell Scott, or Chester Drum. The racy scenes were great but I loved the
mystery. There was a real kind of masculine, rough-hewn rhythm to those caper
novels, and I acquired an even deeper sense of them that was emotional and
powerful. If I hadn’t read those stories, I wouldn’t be writing movies.
"fascination with the myth of the private eye"
“My fascination with the myth of the private eye and my obsession with those
pulp novels needed an outlet when I became an adult,” he elaborates. “To some
extent I explored it in Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. But I’d never
attempted a private eye piece that summed up all the different things I felt
about those books and always wanted to try. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang specifically
pays homage to the detective stories I read when I was a kid.”
The setting for Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a tarnished promised land called
contemporary Los Angeles, a sprawling shark tank where damaged but decent
characters collide with destiny much in the same way the fated fiction unfolds
in the pages of Black’s beloved private eye novels. Swimming with the sharks are
petty criminal Harry Lockhart and sometime actress Harmony Faith Lane, recently
reunited childhood friends who share a love of the long-forgotten pulp hero
Jonny Gossamer, a tough guy private eye in the tradition of Black’s fictional
“Go to hell, Jonny Gossamer,” she told me. She’d poured herself into a seamless
dress. From the look of it she’d spilled some. From: You’ll Never Die In This
Town Again - A Jonny Gossamer Thriller.
Though the fictional Jonny Gossamer only briefly appears in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
in a scene from a movie playing within the story, he is an important point of
reference for the characters and his presence is felt throughout the film.
“There’s a sense of destiny about Jonny Gossamer, a sense of spitting in the eye
of death,” says Black of his fictional P.I. “He’s an obscure, trashy dime-store
paperback phenomenon who has come to represent so much more than that in the
eyes of these characters. He’s really a metaphor for a kind of youthful
enthusiasm, a belief in something beyond where you are, a belief in the hero
that you can someday be.”
As the story unfolds and Black’s characters seize the opportunity to rise above
their past imperfections and maybe make good for once, their reality begins to
take on the qualities of Jonny Gossamer’s fictional world, where randomness
gives way to fate, truth is stranger than fiction, and everyone has the chance
to be great for one shining moment.
“It’s important to believe in and savor something that’s shopworn and soiled and
which most people would dismiss as not being literature,” Black believes. “There
have been very few contemporary interpretations of the great L.A. private eye
tradition; what I strived for was a movie that walks the line between something
that takes itself seriously enough to be suspenseful but is playful enough to be
entertaining and fresh.”
Black has injected creatively risky devices to achieve his ends, including
characters talking to the audience, referring to the scene being played and even
stopping the film to go back a step.
After honing this sly blend of his signature buddy movie and classic film noir,
Black sent his Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang screenplay to Silver. “It seemed logical to
do this project with Joel because I thought that more than anyone I’ve worked
with in the past, he would be drawn to it; he would understand the material, not
just in general, but in the way that I specifically intended,” Black says.
“I thought Shane’s script was funny, romantic, suspenseful and full of fresh,
unexpected moments,” Silver says. “It’s a sophisticated blend of genres and
ideas. It pays homage to noir films and the pulp detective stories, but the tone
is utterly contemporary. The passion he has for the private eye tradition really
comes through. It might be the most romantic story Shane’s ever written. It’s
definitely his most original.”
"With great material, you will attract great actors"
“With Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Shane does for the private eye genre what he did
for the action movie,” says executive producer Susan Levin, who also serves as
Silver Pictures’ Executive Vice President of Production. “He brings together
original, engaging characters in a story infused with clever dialogue and a
rapid-fire tempo that calls back to classic screwball comedies. It was one of
the best pieces of material I’d read in some time. With great material, you will
attract great actors.”
And they did: Robert Downey jnr as Harry and Val Kilmer as ‘Gay Perry’, fort a
It seems only fitting that the filmmakers responsible for infusing the action
genre with a super sized dose of machismo be the ones to turn that conceit on
its ear by having the most traditionally macho character in the story be gay.
“That’s classic Shane,” Silver says. “He loves to play with the audience’s
Published November 17, 2005
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