Shane Black, once a hugely paid Hollywood screenwriter (he is responsible for Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, amongst others), has resurfaced after many years below the radar.
His directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a far different animal from the highbrow action schlock Black used to churn out, but that is not a bad thing.
This movie, which is both a modern day film noir and a jab at all the conventions of that particular genre, reveals wells of wit that could end up setting up Black as one of Hollywood’s more fresh and exciting new talents.
We start with Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a petty crook, running from the police. To get away from them, he ducks into an audition for a detective movie and accidentally nails it.
He is promptly flown out to Los Angeles by his big-shot producer (Larry Miller) and treated to a hotel, parties, and detective lessons by a flamboyant enigma of a P.I. named “Gay Perry” (Val Kilmer). He also reconnects with an old flame with the improbable name of Harmony (Michelle Monaghan).
From there, things begin happening very quickly. In the interest of not spoiling anything, nothing will be more will be said here, but let’s just say the body count starts climbing rather rapidly.
The movie is narrated all the way through by Harry. It is, however, not narration in the conventional sense. It is more postmodern and stream of consciousness. Sometimes Harry leaves out crucial information and decides to rewind the movie so we can catch up.
He also references other contemporary films, like when he says his movie won’t “end 17” times like the last Lord of the Rings movie. This device works very well at points.
However, at times, it serves as a bit of a distracting experience, and manages to take the viewer out of the movie. A certain level of self- awareness can be a great quality for a movie, but this one is just a little too cute at points.
Aside from the occasional voiceover snafu, however, Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely refreshing. This man is immensely talented (if he wasn’t, directors wouldn’t keep taking chances on him).
In this movie however, he reveals a keen sense of comic timing, which is something he’d only hinted at in past roles. This is also the best thing Val Kilmer has done in a long time.
Gay Perry is a character that could have easily fallen squarely into the realm of parody, but Kilmer invests him with a sense of dignity in addition to his flagrantly gay qualities.
This man is proud of who he is, even a tad arrogant, and Kilmer does a fantastic job putting that across. As the female lead, Michelle Monaghan is also excellent. This beautiful woman is a star in the making. We are also treated to Corbin Bernsen in a funny supporting turn as a washed-up actor (big stretch).
The performances probably owe a lot to Black, who obviously knows this genre inside out. Every one of the conventions is here (the torture scene, the femme fatale, the double cross, etc.).
The movie never takes itself too seriously, but never becomes a total comedy, so it is hard to classify what exactly this is, but whatever it is, it’s fun. Shane Black is back and better than ever.
Chuck Delross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.