Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) / Mystery-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language, violence, nudity, sexuality, and crude humor
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Larry Miller, Shannyn Sossamon
Director: Shane Black
Screenplay: Shane Black (partially based on the novel, "Bodies Are Where You Find Them" by Brett Halliday)
Review published November 24, 2005

There are movies that one recommends for the characterizations and the cleverness in the dialogue rather than the story or plot.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang strikes me as one of those kinds of movies.  That's not to say that the story is a dud here, it's just that while one is watching, it is more of a secondary concern.  The primary reason comes due to the tongue-in-cheek writing by veteran Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight), a screenwriter that has made a career mixing action with cheeky humor and kooky characters.  His films have often toyed with the conventions of formula Hollywood fare, and now he finally has the freedom to cut completely loose, in his debut as director.  

Robert Downey Jr. (Gothika, Wonder Boys) plays a two-bit New York thief named Harry Lockhart, finding himself in Los Angeles when, in an attempt to get away from the police, he crashes a casting call and wins the judges over.  Now an aspiring actor, Harry is told to hang out with an actual private investigator, "Gay" Perry Shrike (Kilmer, Mindhunters), to learn the ropes as an actual private dick to have a field of reference for his acting.  He finds his acting skills are to come into play off screen first, as he runs into an old high school friend in the form of Harmony (Monaghan, it Runs in the Family), an attractive struggling actress that may be connected in some way to two seemingly separate incidents that turn up dead beauties.

Borrowing inspiration from old pulp detective novels, including Chandler, with a special nod to "Bodies Are Where You Find Them" by Brett Halliday, Shane Black takes the standard detective story and makes it his own.  His story is told by a self-aware narrator in Harry, who not only helps with the segues, but also is aware that he is presenting the story to a movie audience, savvy about the reactions the film will receive among the audience.  In this way, the film becomes a hoot, talking to us in a way we not only can relate to, but with panache and keen wit, Black crafts hilarious situations and some highly quotable lines about Hollywood movies.  It's this decade's Get Shorty.

The tongue-in-cheek nature of the film helps immensely to keep the more outlandish concepts into perspective, as this is a movie meant purely for entertainment, and we are willing to accept every farfetched contrivance just to be rewarded by more in-jokes, asides, and good bits of over-the-top action.  Although both are meant to be contemporaries, there is an 11-year difference in age between Downey Jr. and Monaghan, but we gladly accept the premise to stay on the wild ride.  This is Downey's strongest role in many a year, but as good as he is, Kilmer steals the show with another offbeat performance that fully utilizes the straight-faced humor that made him a star when he broke into the film industry. 

Kiss Kiss Bang Kang is all in fun, meant not only for people tired of the same-old derivative formula fare, but perhaps even more, those that absolutely adore pulpy detective stories, as it is clear that Black loves them just as much.  If you value witty banter over gunfights, Kiss Kiss has lots of bang for your buck.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo