|Don’t be worried if, halfway through Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, you find yourself wondering if you’ve somehow been transported back to the ’90s. There
it all is again: action-movie wisecracks, unlikely buddy-buddy team-ups, ludicrous plotting complete with cheap red herrings . . . it’s as if Bi ll Clinton never left office and Kevin Costner never lost his hair.
There’s a reason for this: writer-director Shane Black is the man who wrote such bloated shoot ’em ups as the Lethal Weapon films, The Last Boy Scout and The Last Action Hero. Here, he’s simultaneously attempting to resurrect and poke fun at the genre that paid for his early retirement. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is as much action spoof as action spectacle. The plot begins as a wounded smalltime thief (Robert Downey, Jr.) lands a part in a movie after mistakenly walking into an audition. His newfound career forces him to spend time doing research with a gay private eye (that’s right, “gay private eye”) played by Val Kilmer, just in time for the bodies to start piling up and the barbs to start flying.
On one hand, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang‘s wink-wink self-awareness feels quaintly outdated, like those po-mo hitman movies that glutted the market in the wake of Pulp Fiction. But that doesn’t do this one justice. The chemistry between Downey and Kilmer is genuinely engaging, some of the one-liners are great, and Black’s breathless desire to please has an old-fashioned charm to it. The man knows how to entertain, even if his plotting is as cumbersome and clichéd as ever. It might not be as daring or character-driven as it thinks it is, but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a welcome blast from the past. — Bilge Ebiri
| Blatant, forthright allegories are rare in movies these days — what’s currently in fashion is ostensible naturalism clumsily ladled over a hamhanded, self-satisfied subtext. (Recent examples: Jia Zhangke’s The World, Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can Fly.) So it’s refreshing to see a film that makes no apologies or excuses for letting X stand in for Y, one that revels in its own dreamlike artificiality. Ambiguously malevolent and overpoweringly eerie, Innocence, adapted from an 1888 short story by symbolist writer Frank Wedekind, is set entirely at a girls’ school located in the midst of a Grimmlike Euroforest. From the get-go, this institution is surpassingly bizarre: New students arrive via coffin, enormous lamps illuminate ominous outdoor paths (from directly overhead — suspended from what?), tuition is limited to ballet and biology, with emphases on grace and reproduction. No evidence of the world beyond the dauntingly high, ivy-covered wall surrounding the school is permitted to permeate this hermetic atmosphere; the existence of another gender amounts to a preposterous rumor — or, for those who once had fathers or brothers, a distant memory.
When Innocence cropped up on the festival circuit last year, it occasioned some excitement because its writer-director, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, has worked as Gaspar Noé’s producer and editor (and is reportedly his longtime girlfriend). Irreversible‘s influence can be felt in the new film’s jittery opening-credit sequence and oppressive sound design, but Hadzihalilovic has no use for Noé’s bombastic showmanship, favoring instead an unnerving, almost clinical precision. A brief prologue composed of successive establishing shots, starting at the outskirts of the forest and traveling inward to the heart of the school, is so exquisitely judged, in terms of composition and juxtaposition and even duration, that it alone more than compensates for Wedekind’s admittedly jejune ideas about femininity (which the film, by making the girls several years younger than they are in the original story, shifts to the onset of pubescence). Confronted with a mysterious situation, we’re conditioned to expect some sort of explanatory last-minute twist; Innocence, by contrast, is fairly transparent, culminating in a graduation ceremony that merely confirms the hypothesis you’d settled upon in the first five minutes. Yet the final shot is so gloriously charged, so confidently symbolic, so aggressively cinematic, that it drowns any reservations. — Mike D’Angelo
|This sex-education comedy is a weird mutt of a film, a well-intentioned but misguided effort to make a teen comedy with a political conscience. The filmmakers, unfortunately, lose out on both the crass teen-screen joie de vivre and the inspiring qualities of feel-good agitprop. Kids winds up patronizing its intended audience more than propping it up.
An awkward shout-out to free speech, safe-sex education, gay rights and Bush-bashing, Kids suspends one kid for pinning condoms to her sweater, and expels its hero (Gregory Smith as, yes, Holden) for a bit of talent-show protest art. Under the tutelage of a teacher who tells them to “change da world,” Holden’s merry band of multi-culti, freaky and geeky clichés mobilizes to save the school and kick out their hard-edged fembot of a principal.
Kids tries to be knowingly cute about its inspirations, even going so far as to stage different screen kisses from ’80s teen films. But this coy quoting, and the end-credit testimony by real-life teens who have faced discrimination, just reveal how derivative Kids‘ “revolution” really is. — Noy Thrupkaew
|If You’re in the Mood for…
…A Triple Oscar Winner Cage Match: North Country
Like Norma Rae with three times the Oscar-winning actresses, or Dancer in the Dark with more headscarves and less hanging, this blue-collar brow-furrower (here, about sexual harassment) is basically an excuse to ogle virtuoistic performances (here, by the always-fantastic Sissy Spacek and Frances McDormand, and the when-did-she-turn-into-Hilary-Swank Charlize Theron).
…Steve Martin, or the Secret Subtext:Shopgirl
A man is smitten by Claire Danes, wonders if he might not be at the right stage of his life to pursue her, then says oh fuck it and does it anyway. Hmm… wonder how uncomfortable Billy Crudup was at the premiere?
…Existential Angst (see, “Why Am I in This Theater?”): Stay
A major studio dusts off a two-year-old Marc Forster film starring two Oscar nominees and today’s most promising young actor, then sneaks it into release with zero publicity and nary a press day… what could this possibly mean? If you’re at all perplexed, then you will be riveted by this developmentally disabled cousin of Memento. Its stunty ending lands only one trick: making you realize you’ve literally wasted 90 minutes of your life.
. . .An Adrenaline Rush:Rooms for Tourists
A riveting slasher flick, made by a nineteen-year-old Argentinian director, that does for the horror genre what Amores Perros did for the social docudrama.
| Batman‘s erotic elements are almost too obvious: a dungeon outfitted with slinky outfits hung from a cave on S&M hooks, gimp masks, ropes, secret-identity role-playing, a central character who sleeps in strange positions. But then Christopher Nolan cast sweetheart Katie Holmes, and, well, there went the neighborhood. Whereas Michelle Pfeiffer and Kim Basinger played Batman’s lovers as a ravenous slut and a teetering sexpot, Holmes brought a kind of saccharine cyborg cheesiness to the part, sweetening the role beyond belief and then capping it with a series of pompous lectures. There’s great cartoon action in Batman Begins, and Bale was the right maniac for his part, but Holmes sucked the sex out of the film.
So, this weekend get Saving Face instead. Alice Wu’s low-budget debut is a marvel in a minor key, and smart in ways you don’t quite notice until it’s over. The story of a young Chinese-American doctor who falls in love with an actress and watches her mother’s life spiral out of control, the film draws on tropes from any number of badly done genres: the coming-out film, the mother-daughter drama, the romantic comedy. But it never stumbles into dumb clichés. The elegant and underused Joan Chen is wholly convincing as a mother whose own marriage falls apart, and her full-blooded performance, along with a sharp script, gives this film the life Batman lacks. — Logan Hill