Thursday, 16 January 2014

Filmdog Weekly #2 (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Coming to America)

In this week's Filmdog we pick up the scent of Robert Downey Jr.'s wannabe Private Dick in Shane Black's 2005 film noir 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' before taking a trip to New York to hang out with Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy and Eddie Murphy in 1988 comedy 'Coming to America'...

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Sky Movies) 
If you're not already familiar with Shane Black, chances are you'll already have seen a few of his films. Writer of the Lethal Weapon series as well as The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight and more recently Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang possesses all the grace notes that we've come to expect from that list. Fast-paced action? Check. Odd-couple protagonists? Check. Witty badinage? Check. The hallmarks are all there in Black's first attempt in the director's chair and he pulls it off with a lot of success. 

There's no hanging around as we're plunged headfirst into the story of Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.), a small-time thief who lucks out in bizarre circumstances to end up in LA as a budding Hollywood actor. He's told by his producer to shadow a savvy private investigator, 'Gay Perry' (Val Kilmer), to prepare Harry for an upcoming role by giving him 'detective lessons'. A routine stake-out turns for the worse when they witness a murder and find themselves embroiled in a rather elaborate plot involving the dead sister of Harry's feisty childhood sweetheart-turned-washed-up-actress (Michelle Monaghan) and a bunch of bad guys under the employ of an evil studio executive.

The story gets a little convoluted so that by halfway we have 3 female corpses and I can only figure out who 2 of them are but it's all done very stylishly. What works for me is the interaction between the straight-but-sensitive Harry and the gay-but-don't-mess-with-him Perry. If you enjoyed those buddy action films I mentioned earlier then chances are you'll enjoy this. The noir theme is fun and appropriate for this murder mystery (Harry regularly breaks the 4th wall during his regular voiceover narration) and Monaghan's love interest gives as good as she gets - foul mouthed, sexy and wiling to mix it with the boys. Downey Jr. is once again guilty of playing yet another version of himself on film but if it works then why change?
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Coming to America (Sky Movies)
'It was acceptable in the 80's'

I love eighties comedies and this is up there with the best of them. Murphy launched his movie career as the streetwise Reggie Hammond in 1982's superb 48 Hours (another great buddy cop film to add to your bucket list) before compiling a string of hits with Trading Places, Beverley Hills Cop I & II and The Golden Child. I love all those films (yes even The Golden Child) because of Murphy's humour and character, which is essential the same in each film. Here however he plays a character far removed from the archetypal Murphy we'd seen previously. Stately but humble Prince Akeem of Zamunda is bored of his pampered lifestyle. The finial straw arrives with his unwillingness to be married against his will to a complete subservient ('whatever you like'). He takes matters into his own hands and travels to New York with his trusted companion Semmi in order to find a woman "who can satisfy my intellect as well as my loins".

You've probably seen it so I'll leave the plot summary. Suffice it say we have the usual Eddie Murphy / John Landis ticks in here. Half the cast are played by either Murphy or Arsenio Hall, something that would become a trademark of his in future comedies. There's also the breaking-of-the-4th-wall looks to the camera and the playful reference to Trading Places late in the film. There are gags aplenty and some great turns from John Amos as Cleo McDowell and Eriq La Salle as Darryl, the cowardly heir of 'Soul Glow', but it's Eddie Murphy's charm, playing it straight amongst a cast of clowns, that gives the film its heart. Lookout too for James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair as the King and Queen of Zamunda. And do you know who provide the voices for King Mufasa and Queen Serabi in The Lion King? Nope. Me neither.
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