KISS KISS BANG BANG (Shane Black, 2005)
A first rate entertainment that snaps with humor and style, KISS KISS BANG BANG stars Robert Downey Jr. as a small time criminal who stumbles his way into a possible career as a Hollywood film star. Downey’s Harry Lockhart is running from the New York cops when he mistakenly enters an audition and wins over those casting a detective movie. He’s flown out to California to continue the process and is connected with top notch private eye gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a consultant on the film.
In keeping with the film's title, Harry's trip leads him toward romance and violence. He is thrilled to stumble upon and reunite with Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan). They were childhood friends in a small Indiana town. Naturally, he was crazy about the leggy brunette, but their friendship superseded his young lust, although that was more her doing than his. While still in high school, Harmony departed for fame and fortune as an actress in Los Angeles, but the intervening years have delivered merely a prominent role in a beer commercial. Believing that Harry is a detective, Harmony asks for his help in the death of her sister, one of two possible murder cases he and Perry get mixed up in.
KISS KISS BANG BANG's film noir and dime store paperback elements satisfy, but the murder mystery is secondary to the characters and their quips. The characters spar, equipped with Shane Black’s sharply written wordplay that consistently lands big laughs. Downey’s wink-wink voiceover is sarcasm to perfection.
KISS KISS BANG BANG is as much a treatise on screenwriting conventions as it is a noir mystery. Black’s film isn’t the mindbender that the Charlie Kaufman-penned films are, but it shows a writer-director grappling with limitations and breaking free of them. Black inserts scenes and asides because he wants them and because they seem funny, even if they’re not crucial to the story. The result could have been sloppy and self-indulgent, but it works because he’s right. It is funny.
Downey, Kilmer, and Monaghan give nimble performances that juggle the danger of their situations and the comedy and romance. Downey and Kilmer don’t skip a beat in lobbing verbal grenades at one another, and a playful Monaghan also hits the serious notes necessary to her character.
Black, who has been largely out of the Hollywood scene for almost a decade, makes a splashy return and directorial debut. KISS KISS BANG BANG is full of knowing cinema references—the title may derive from a nickname for James Bond or a collection of film critic Pauline Kael’s writings—but above all else it is a hilarious movie that reinvigorates the modern crime picture.