That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

Homophobic hokum from Shane Black goes out of its way to offend

Why does Shane Black hate gay people so much? “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which he wrote and directed, features a queer character called Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), who says sarcastically, that he keeps the moniker, because, “I just like the name.” Of course, if audiences are not sure about this tough guy’s sexuality, well, his cell phone ring gives him away—it’s a disco version of the song, “I Will Survive.”

Perry—sorry, Gay Perry—is a crime solving, cock-loving, wisecracking private dick whose function in this mess of a film appears mainly to have his gayness used as a punch line. His homosexuality is consistently discussed in unfunny jokes, and with such disbelief and disdain by the other characters that the whole film comes off quite homophobic.

The hero of the piece, Harry (Robert Downey, Jr.), is a thief turned would-be actor who is learning the detective trade from Gay Perry in anticipation of a potential movie role. Harry winces every time Gay Perry talks romantically about guys, which is every time Harry brings up the subject of sex, which is just about every time the two characters speak. Gay Perry answers ironically, “Yeah, I’m knee deep in it,” when Harry asks him about pussy. This passes for the film’s idea of buddy banter.

Perry also describes his Derringer as “a faggot gun,” and keeps it in between his legs, because, he reports, guys don’t frisk gay guys “down there.” This gives a whole new twist on the classic cliché: “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” especially insults queer audiences when Gay Perry and Harry lock lips in an effort to elude the cops. Gay Perry kisses Harry, and the straight man’s response to this maneuver is complete and utter disgust. He spits, he screams, and he wipes his mouth thoroughly. One might conclude that Harry protests too much, but don’t look too deep—this scene is probably just Black’s idea of really calling out the yucks. Alas, it’s not amusing, just patently offensive. Are viewers to conclude that Harry has evolved when he later offers Perry mouth-to-mouth in the wake of a particularly tough bruising?

Even more disturbing, however, is a scene in which Gay Perry sexually taunts a bad guy while he and Harry are tied up, and Harry’s genitals are being shocked with electric wires. Presumably, Gay Perry escapes this fate since bad guys know better than to touch him “down there.”

Remarkably, Black made one directorial choice that suggests some measure of restraint. When some of Gay Perry’s blood is spilled on Harry, there is no mention of AIDS. Queer audience should be grateful for small favors.

Downey shows some spark with his portrait of Harry, but Kilmer is horribly miscast as Gay Perry. Though he avoids any obviously stereotypical behavior, but there is little to distinguish his performance here.

Ultimately, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is Black’s attempt to make a hip hardboiled mystery in the Raymond Chandler mode, but the noir writer’s work had great dialogue, tremendous suspense, and style. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” offers none of those things. In one of the film’s dumbest, and most revolting sequences, a dog eats the tip of Harry’s severed finger. At least “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is able to offend more than just gay folks.