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Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a small-time thief who accidentally stumbles into a casting session while fleeing the scene of a robbery. In a whirlwind of events, Harry is mistakenly cast in a role and whisked off to Hollywood. Once there, he finds himself smack in the middle of a bona fide murder mystery. With the help of a private investigator nicknamed Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and a woman from his past (Michelle Monaghan), Harry Lockhart just might save the day. Based on the novel by Brett Halliday.
I love film noir. I love action movies. So, it’s safe to say that I love Shane Black's KISS KISS BANG BANG, which is a mish-mash/homage/satire of the former two genres. Now, you may not know the name Shane Black, but you know his work. He is the writer of such 80s and 90s action films as LETHAL WEAPON, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. If you remember those films at all, then you know that Black is very good at balancing dark humor, surprisingly poignant character development, vulgar language, and gratuitous violence. In the case of KKBB, Black satirizes what made him famous (at least among action movie junkies), but in a completely good-natured way. I would also say that this is his most complete and witty screenplay to date.
This is the kind of movie that requires repeat viewings, just so everything can completely sink in. And trust me; you won’t mind revisiting these characters. I really don’t want to give too much away, but just know that every scene absolutely clicks in this film. There is not a dull moment throughout its entire running time. I have a soft-spot for movies that mock other movies, and this particular film is one of the most spot-on of its kind. Nothing plays out as you would expect it to, and that is part of its charm.
Speaking of charm, there is an undercurrent of sweetness in the film that balances out its crasser aspects, and ultimately makes it even more likeable. In particular, the relationship between Harry and his love interest Harmony is very cute, and the chemistry between actors Downey and Monaghan undoubtedly backs up Black’s conception of their tentative romance. These two people are meant to be with each other, and we want to see that happen. This serves as another testament to the craftsmanship on display here.
The cast is uniformly great all around. Val Kilmer hasn’t seemed this alive in years; in fact, I don’t think he’s ever been this funny, aside from his role in another (very different) spoof, TOP SECRET. He is definitely one of the film’s biggest assets. Now, we all know that Robert Downey Jr. is a firecracker of acting ability, but it is nonetheless always fascinating to watch him work. The man’s talent helps him steal this movie. He roots KISS KISS BANG BANG in every sense of the word. Not only does he serve as narrator, but he also is in pretty much very scene, and if you didn’t like the guy, the film would be in serious trouble. He nails the comedy, he nails the pathos...he helps us become fully invested in this character. And as a result, Downey helps us fully invest in the movie as a whole. Aside from the writing, Downey is the biggest reason to see this film.
Shane Black always nails the core male relationships of the films he writes; he gets the small nuances right, the chemistry, the banter, the “tough guy speak,” the jovial mockery that exists between two guys who become fast friends over a single adventure. He certainly does it again in this film. Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry are the best onscreen duo that I’ve seen in a long time. I would love to see a series of detective movies centered on these two guys. Can’t you just hear more of Harry’s sarcastic, informal narration, as he slings witty barbs at the mindset behind the Hollywood sequel factory? Unfortunately, the chances of that are very slim, but you never know. I have simply run out of ways to try and convince you to see KISS KISS BANG BANG. Did I mention how funny this movie is? Did I mention how unabashedly entertaining this movie is? Did I mention how awesome the cast is? Did I mention how surprising and intelligent the screenplay is? Well, it all bears repeating, because it’s all true. In fact, KISS KISS BANG BANG is one of the best films of the 2000’s, and one of the best movies ABOUT MOVIES ever made.