Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/21/05 00:21:23

"Shane came back and brought a hilarious mystery goof with him"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

After revolutionizing the blockbuster action film with his screenplays for “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” writer Shane Black basically disappeared from Hollywood for nearly a decade. With “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” he makes his return–as well as his directorial debut–with a fast and funny deconstruction of the kind of film that made him famous and wealthy in the first place. The result may not the next “Pulp Fiction,” as some have described it, but with its blend of quirky dialogue, surprising violence and subversive narrative, it will certainly tide viewers over until the next “Pulp Fiction” does come around.

While escaping from a robbery gone bad, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a big-budget detective film and his “realism” earns him a trip to Hollywood for a screen test. While doing research with an acerbic gay detective, known as Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), Downey becomes embroiled in a real-life crime or two involving an old grade-school girlfriend, the wonderfully-named Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), a sleazy millionaire (Corbin Bernsen), unspeakable secrets from the past, a couple of dead bodies, a robot, a couple of missing body part and a series of old pulp detective novels. This unfathomably complex story is narrated by Downey’s character–he tries to sound tough and hard-bitten but is such a decidedly unreliable narrator that he has to continuously backtrack to reveal important information that he forgot to mention the first time around. The effect is oddly endearing–imagine the plot of a standard-issue Raymond Chandler story being told to you by someone who never quite got around to actually reading the whole thing and is desperately inventing things on the fly in order to convince you otherwise.

Black’s screenplay is appropriately twisty and even the more brutal moments (such as Downey losing the same finger twice) are leavened by the genuinely amusing situations, self-aware dialogue and the occasional endearing non-sequitur–I inexplicably love the moment when a surprised Kilmer comes out with “What in pluperfect hell . . . ?” As a director, he doesn’t reinvent the wheel but he keeps things moving at a fast and funny clip and the film looks as sleek and stylish as the very genre that it is goofing on. The three leads are all highly entertaining as well–Downey, an actor who can be great when given strong material to work with, turns in one of his best performances here, Kilmer is flat-out hilarious in what may be his most likable turn since the glory days of “Top Secret” and “Real Genius” and the lesser-known Monaghan (who can also be seen this week in “North Country”) is sweet, silly and sexy in what should be a star-making role as the dame at the center of everything..

Although the film moves at such an exhaustive pace that it begins to run out of steam in the last couple of reels (after a decade out of the game, it feels as if Black wanted to put every good idea he had in that time into one script), “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a hugely entertaining film that has a lot of fun with genre conventions but smartly remembers to build its weirdo diversions atop of a relatively solid narrative foundation. The film may be getting sold as just another silly action comedy (though it is currently getting only an inexplicably limited release) but it is a lot smarter and funnier than the ads let on. Who would have thought that the man behind the utterly hateful likes of “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight” would have something so playful and intelligent in him waiting to get out?

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