Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Movie Review (***)

(Originally posted on 11-19-05)

Shane Black… Wow, how long has it been since that name was on a movie? One of original big pay day screenwriters. He wrote Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Monster Squad. He was the superstar screenwriter of the moment. He even had a featured role in Predator. And then he just fell off the map. Disappeared. Nothing for years.

And now he just kind of reappears out of nowhere as both writer and director with a fully formed movie starring two other former celebrities that seemed to have never lived up to their potential. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a smart revisionist nourish action/mystery/comedy with a modest amount of action, a modest amount of mystery and the best comedy dialogue in a straight up movie in a long time.

Robert Downey, Jr is Harry Lockhart, a down on his luck small time crook who, on the run from the cops, stumbles into a movie audition and gets a chance at a starring role in a major Hollywood production, and before he knows it he is in Tinseltown rubbing shoulders with the rich and venal and getting wrapped up in a murder mystery that is probably much more complicated than it really has to be. Val Kilmer, who is currently going through a bit of a character renaissance, as “Gay Perry” is a Hollywood PI assigned to mentor Harry in preparation for the final audition. Into the mix comes Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), Harry’s childhood crush and a failed aspiring actress living in LA.

All the actors play off each other extremely well, especially Kilmer and Downey, and they obviously relish the opportunity to dig into interesting and entertaining dialogue together. Monaghan is quite attractive and up for the challenge of trying to keep up with the other two, but comes across a little too generically to fit in completely believably with the world created here. Kilmer and Downey’s characters are loaded with quirks and history that show up in their performances, while Monaghan just comes across as too young to be who she needs to be for her character.

The plot is self-satisfyingly convoluted, with lots of late twists and at its heart the theme of scarred hearts and the absence of strong, decent father figures is a bit more than expected. The through thread is pretty dark and ultimately unforgiving, but the journey there is quirky and for the most part intelligent and new. Black shows a real vision for what he wants to say here, and does so competently. He is not overly flashy in his direction, he lets his characters tell the story and then follows them through all the zigzaggy roads that he has set up for them to run down.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is not for everyone, but it worked extremely well for me. It is not quite perfect, but it comes pretty close. It knows exactly what it wants to be and spends all of its energy working towards that goal, which is really more than most films ever attempt to do. It is nice to see that Black’s extended time away from the screen has mellowed him out a bit and gave him enough perspective that his return was more on his terms than on big budget Hollywood’s. Hopefully, he can continue like this and not get caught back up in the formula race that he was running before.

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