Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

October, 2005, Thriller

Directed by:Shane Black

Starring:Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, and Corbin Bernsen

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Screenwriter Shane Black has the kind of track record Hollywood nightmares are made of; sensational results with his very first script (Lethal Weapon) followed by nearly two decades filled with bloated parodies of that initial success (The Last Boy Scout, Lethal Weapons 2, 3 & 4, etc.). Now he delivers his first auteur effort, writing and directing this comedic riff on the buddy flic/action movie. While Black hasn't lost his gift for pungent verbal interplay or the effortless throw-away line, he's skewered here by his desire to tell a conventional story while demonstrating once again his skill at crafting smart dialogue. The result makes for a half-clever movie undone by its own chutzpah. In re-working an old potboiler by novelist Brett Halliday, Black doesn't blend the ingredients in his recipe properly and he winds up a half-baked result.  

It's not for lack of attractive, off-beat characters; Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry Lockhart, an East Coast petty crook who finds himself, (in the script's cleverest conceit) at a poolside party in Los Angles where he meets Gay Parry, (a greatly bulked-up Val Kilmer) L.A.'s gayest and busiest private eye. Gay Parry's currently working for Harlan Dexter, who runs an exclusive private clinic when he's not celebrating the return of his long lost (and very wealthy) daughter. It's Harry's good fortune to also hook up again with Harmony Lane, (Michelle Monaghan) an aspiring starlet he knew as a kid when both of them were growing up in small town Indiana.  Harmony is trying to track down her younger sister, who has inexplicably come to the big city only to show up very dead. The movie producer responsible for bringing Harry to Lotus Land hires Parry to teach Harry the ins and outs of shamus-work for an upcoming role he's to play, but events soon develop which have both of them reluctantly working on the disappearance of Dexter's daughter as well as the apparent suicide of Harmony's sister. Bodies appear, disappear and re-appear; leads are followed, shots fired, bad guys ventilated. 

It's all quite complicated and ultimately disinteresting because Black can't master his screenplay's tendency to lurch back and forth between wise-ass dialogue and the storyline's brutal violence. His skill with that combination worked well in Lethal Weapon because the mix was right; a soupcon of clever repartee and lots of propulsive action. Here, Black's fallen in love with the sound of own dialogue; Downey and Kilmer reel it off quite effectively, but endlessly and often at inappropriate moments. Black hasn't the skill at hilarious depravity Quentin Tarantino possesses; here the humor isn't fiercely black, it's just a commercial shade of gray--so the audience struggles with the off-kilter impact of serious events and the wisenheimer commentary that accompanies it. (This is most evident in Downey's voice-over narration, which goes from annoyingly cute to thoroughly irritating almost before the opening credits have ended.)

Black's got the talent necessary for this kind of film, but has he lost the restraint required to make pulp-fiction thrillers that are really worth paying to see? Sadly, Kiss Kiss seems to answer that question in the affirmative. 

The Verdict? Screenwriter, heal thyself! 

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