Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Review
By Joe Lozito
Black is Back
In the annals of overpaid screenwriter burn-outs, the name Shane Black isn't quite as infamous as Joe "Showgirls" Eszterhaus. After all but defining the action-buddy-comedy genre with "Lethal Weapon" and the underappreciated "The Last Boy Scout", Mr. Black became Hollywood's highest paid writer for the ill-fated "Last Action Hero" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight". When those films bombed, Mr. Black (perhaps wisely) chose to disappear for almost a decade before returning with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", a winkingly funny neo-noir treat which he himself directs.
Mr. Black wrote the script, based in part on a novel by Brett Halliday, which follows Harry and Perry (Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer), your average mismatched comedy duo: one's a petty thief hiding from the cops, the other's a private eye. The machinations which bring them together are only the most minor contrivance in Mr. Black preposterously complex story. As the plot twists and turns - like any good film noir should - it's best not to question it too much. Even Raymond Chandler - to whom Mr. Black owes more than a little inspiration - once noted that he didn't know who committed one of the murders in "The Big Sleep". It's a shame Mr. Black didn't jettison the jokey, self-aware narration (the narrator constantly points out what a bad narrator he is) along with his fondness for titles beginning with the letter 'L'. But while the script may stretch and strain at times, it's held together by two actors working at the top of their respective games.
Mr. Kilmer has a gift for comedy which was proven in the early 80s with two largely over-looked gems, "Top Secret" and "Real Genius". But ever since his intense turn as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's 1991 opus "The Doors", Mr. Kilmer has battled a hot-headed reputation and a series of mediocre films ("The Saint", "Red Planet", "Mindhunters"). Even in those stinkers, though, Mr. Kilmer has been a compelling presence. Who knew it would take playing homosexual to liberate him? Mr. Kilmer's light, self-assured turn as "Gay Perry" (get it?) is his least self-conscious performance in years and easily one of his best.
Like his director and his co-star, Mr. Downey is a Hollywood talent beleaguered by reputation and personal demons. Long considered to be one of his generation's finest actors, Mr. Downey has spent too much of his career in and out of the news and rehab. Now with "Kiss Kiss", the actor has a chance to make good and he knocks it out of the park. Far from the one-joke character it could have been, Mr. Downey's Harry has genuine heart and his scenes with Mr. Kilmer (and would-be femme fatale Michelle Monaghan) crackle with life and humor.
While Mr. Black's L.A. is a town where the much celebrated artifice hides dark secrets, his story never makes any kind of real social commentary (except when it comes to L.A. women, who he seems particularly angry at), but you don't want that from your action buddy comedies. As a director, Mr. Black keeps it simple, allowing the actors to run the show and bite into his ample dialogue. I don't know where Mr. Black has been for the last decade, but whatever he did, it worked. Hopefully it won't take another ten years to crank out his next one.