"KISS KISS (BANG BANG)" CAST & REVIEW
Review by Andrew Howe:
Fans of film critic Pauline Kael will recognize Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) as the
title of one of her early collections - she lifted the phrase from an Italian movie
poster, holding it up as a four-word summation of the allure of the silver screen.
Writer/director Stewart Sugg knows the truth of it, and his sophomore feature doesnt
want for sex, violence and everything in between. Its a schizophrenic film, daring
us to take it seriously and rewarding us if we do, and Sugg sweetens the deal with several
actors who grace our screens with considerably less frequency than they deserve.
Felix (Stellan Skarsgård) is an aging hitman suffering from a mid-life crisis, and
after introducing his protégé Jimmy (Paul Bettany) to the barflies at the local
assassins guild, he announces hes getting out of the game. Out of work and on
the wrong side of one too many burning bridges, he reluctantly agrees to babysit an
associates mentally retarded son. Bubba (Chris Penn) has spent the last thirty-four
years locked in his room, but under Felixs expert tutelage, he discovers the joys of
hard liquor, becomes acquainted with the opposite sex and learns how not to conduct a
relationship via Felixs tempestuous liaison with his part-time girlfriend Sherry
(Jacqueline McKenzie). Unfortunately for everyone concerned, Felixs erstwhile
partners in crime are dispatched to remind him that you can check out but you can never
leave, and our heroes spend the rest of the film dodging bullets, smoking cigarettes and
working on their unlikely friendship.
Its the kind of premise that drives marketing executives to drink, but its
nowhere near as trying as it sounds. The casting of the leads pays considerable
dividends - Skarsgård and Penn have spent the last decade providing capable support, and
they obviously relish the opportunity to step out of the shadows. Skarsgårds
experience at playing stone-cold souls stands him in good stead when hes called upon
to unlimber the automatic weaponry, but Breaking the Waves taught us that hes
also a dab hand at communicating tortured emotions, and his sensitive performance lends
the film the required weight.
Sherry has a baby on the way, but Felix has spent so much time modeling his lifestyle on
an Eastwood western that hes resigned to spending the rest of his days alone. Bubba
becomes his surrogate son, and the gradual thaw in their relationship is no less affecting
for its predictability. This is where Penn comes into his own - his generous proportions
and open features cement Bubbas status as an alternately irritating and endearing
innocent abroad, and by the halfway point its relatively easy to support him in his
quest for enlightenment.
While its essentially a two-man show, Peter Vaughn and McKenzie make the most of
their minor roles (McKenzie appears to have fallen off the map in recent times, with a
superb performance in 1995s Angel Baby earning her nothing better than seven
years in the wilderness). The film also benefits from another likeable turn by Bettany,
whose performance as Charles Herman was one of the highlights of the following years
A Beautiful Mind.
For a film that promises plenty of gun-toting action, its unfortunate that Sugg
struggles with the action element. I suspect he was trying to save money on squibs, and
the restrained set-pieces wont be sending anyones pulse rate soaring. The
climactic showdown is an example of how not to choreograph a firefight - Felix
discharges his weapon, bodies hit the floor in the distance, and the cycle repeats until
the viewer dies of boredom - and while it helps maintain the films atmosphere of
unreality, I would suggest that taking off the gloves would have improved the finished
Sugg redeems himself with his depiction of the various relationships, packing his tale of
redemption with some quietly affecting meditations on love and loss.... Kiss Kiss
(Bang Bang) is an unusual concoction, washing down elements of Rain Man and The
Mechanic with a healthy dose of independent-filmmaker swagger. Its a shame that
it never broke free of the festival circuit, and its worth seeking out if
youre in the mood for an entertaining little film that lives up to its title.