Many of the holiday movies we consider classics or cult favorites today did not seem destined for such glory when we first reviewed them. Some we panned. Others were flops. Others just weren’t particularly holiday-focused.
We dug up 10 of those reviews from our archives, which we’ve rounded up here, along with info on where to stream them. Below is how the critic A.O. Scott reviewed “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” for The New York Times on Oct. 21, 2005:
The opening titles for Shane Black’s “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” — based not on Pauline Kael’s collection of essays, but rather, at least in part, on a novel by Brett Halliday — evoke a bygone age of high pop style. The visuals are a loving tribute to the great graphic designer Saul Bass, while the jazzy sounds of John Ottman’s score summon up the easy heat of Henry Mancini in his prime. The movie itself, however, evokes a rather different era. I could say that its syncopated editing, its switchback chronology, its fourth-wall-breaking voice-over narration and its hectic mixture of humor and violence represent a fresh and exciting twist on sturdy noir conventions. In fact, I would say just that — if it were 1995 and I were the kind of person whose mind had just been blown by the cinematic possibilities revealed in “Pulp Fiction.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like “Pulp Fiction” just fine, and I don’t think “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is an altogether bad movie. It’s just a movie with no particular reason for existing, a flashy, trifling throwaway whose surface cleverness masks a self-infatuated credulity. Mr. Black, a longtime screenwriter (most famously of “Lethal Weapon”) and first-time director, shows a lot of slick, dexterous self-confidence. As this shaggy-dog crime story hums along, you can almost convince yourself that something interesting is going on. And, in a way, something is, in that the film, as empty stylistic exercises sometimes do, offers its cast the chance to do some inspired, fast-paced riffing.
Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry Lockhart, a small-time New York thief who winds up, via a deliciously improbable circumstance, in Los Angeles. Preparing for a screen test, he falls under the tutelage of Perry van Shrike, played by Val Kilmer, a private detective widely known as Gay Perry because of his sexual preference (which is apparently something of a novelty in Southern California). The two of them engage in a lot of pixilated, hard-boiled banter, hurling one-liners, non sequiturs and riddles at each other with impressive speed and agility. Though both are hyperarticulate, Perry is clearly smarter. “Do you know what you’ll find in the dictionary next to the word idiot?” he asks Harry. “My picture?” “No. The definition of the word idiot, which is what you are.”
Touché! Before long, this verbal sparring match becomes a three-way tag-team scrimmage, as Harry meets Harmony, a girl he knew back home in Indiana who has come west to escape some family ugliness. Harmony is played by Michelle Monaghan, who holds her own nicely in fairly intense company. You may find yourself wondering, all the same, about Harmony’s beauty secrets, since while she and Harry are meant to be around the same age, the more-than-10-year gap between Ms. Monaghan and Mr. Downey is glaringly evident.
But why trouble yourself with logic and consistency? Mr. Black clearly hasn’t. A plot that is meant to be fiendishly twisty and elaborate just feels overly busy. Harmony is a devotee of a pulp private eye named Jonny Gossamer, and the skein of criminality and double-dealing that she, Perry and Harry unravel is meant to resemble one of the novels in which Gossamer appears. The best detective fiction, of course, gestures toward the seamy realities of power, lust and greed that lie underneath the hectic surface. “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” for all its atmospheric talk, has no such subtext, and its glib silliness is never more apparent than when it tries for strong emotions. A subplot involving the sexual abuse of a young child is not particularly upsetting, just crude and contrived.
For the most part, though, the picture is content to be sleek, smooth and contrived. Mr. Black can’t quite manage the mixture of mayhem and humor he is attempting, but at least he hops adroitly from one frantic scene to the next. In the end, it’s more exhausting than thrilling. At one point, a villainous smoothie played by Corbin Bernsen looks pityingly at Harry, who has just been subjected to painful torture, and says, “I hope you don’t judge Los Angeles solely based on your experience here tonight.” That would be an apt tag line for this movie’s lobby posters.
Rent it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.
“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has lots of obscenity, nudity and graphic violence. Running time: 103 minutes.
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