And now for something different. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a marriage of old film noir elements with more modern black comedy techniques, and the result is an occasionally funny and entertaining film that ultimately tries too hard and cannot maintain the breakneck pace that the first act antes up.
Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.) is a petty thief who winds up at a film audition while trying to elude police after he and his buddy are busted while looting a toy store. Harry’s performance is so convincing (and real) that he is given the role of a private eye in an upcoming film. Assigned to train Harry for the part is Gay Perry (Kilmer), a real life private eye who is, you guessed it, gay. The two soon find themselves unraveling a real-life murder-mystery with the alluring Harmony Faith Lane (Monaghan) and Harlan Dexter (Bernsen) at the center of action.
Writer/Director Shane Black knows his elements well. He has undoubtedly spent countless hours studying the art of the noir story, and his previous writing filmography consists largely of buddy action/comedy films. Perhaps it was only logical that he would combine the two. Black’s script is plenty talky, consisting of a narration by Downey Jr. that eventually wears out its welcome and becomes intrusive. After the scintillating first act, it quickly becomes apparent that Black doesn’t have enough material to keep up the nimble pace and resorts to the narration in the hopes of forced laughs. Also hampering the screenplay is the overly convoluted story that is either a nice roast of noir storytelling or simply one that isn’t meant to be completely understood. Your guess is as good as mine. The black comedy elements often work, particularly in a scene involving some Russian roulette. Black’s direction is crisp, as he nicely captures some beautiful Los Angeles locales.
Robert Downey Jr. seems right at home with the material, and he nicely pulls off a confused “why me?” performance. He and Val Kilmer play well off each other in a Lethal Weapon-style way, and Kilmer chews the scenery as well as anyone in this film. Up-and-comer Michelle Monaghan is enticing as the token noir dangerous dame while Corbin Bernsen shows up in a few scenes to ham it up. Credit must be given to the cast for playing out Black’s screenplay with the same sense of fun and quirkiness that must appear on the written page.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is refreshing in its originality and meshing of noir and comedy, but in the end it falls short because of comic desperation and incoherence. Black certainly shows some promise as a director, and Michelle Monaghan, after this and North Country, is certainly a name and face to be on the lookout for. Proceed from here at your own risk.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 102 Minutes
Rating: R for language, violence and sexuality/nudity.
Theatrical Release: May 14, 2005 (Cannes Film Festival) / September 8, 2005 (Toronto Film Festival) / November 11, 2005
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black. Based in part on the novel “Bodies Are Where You Find Them” by Brett Halliday.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Dash Mihok, Larry Miller