For Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, writer/director Shane Black, starts with a 1941 pulp novel by prolific mystery writer Brett Halliday (1904-1977). Using the plot of the novel as a taking off point, Black places it in present-day Los Angeles, turns it on its head and inside out, and emerges with a self-reflexive, raunchy, witty and irreverent movie, bound to please all but the most straitlaced audiences.
Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a petty thief who, though a series of unlikely (but funny) circumstances is apprenticed to Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) a tough-guy private eye who happens to be gay. In an equally unlikely turn of events, Lockhart is reunited with sexy Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), a high school co-ed he knew from back home in Indiana. That she turns out to be a client of van Shrike’s because her sister has been murdered is another unlikely coincidence that simply doesn’t matter in a movie where realistic plotting is beside the point.
Corpses appearing and disappearing, fast action, foul language, and hilarious one-liners are the order of the day. Romance between Lockhart and Lane is inevitable and adds a sweet fillip to the action. Academic-types might call Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang a deconstruction of pulp fiction and the noir film genre and that’s there, but it doesn’t get in the way of delivering hip, contemporary entertainment.
Downey (Gothika, Singing Detective) has never been better than here, catching the Chaplinesque quality of the ever-optimistic loser, delivering skilled comic timing. He has a face of remarkable plasticity capable of revealing a wide range of reactions and emotions that deepen the characterization significantly. He acts as narrator in a voice-over used (as it often was in noir films) to fill in plot points, but equally as effective for punchy jokes.
Kilmer (Alexander, Spartan) reveals a flair for the comic playing the deadpan classic tough guy investigator, thoroughly masculine and self-aware, comfortable in his skin and ready with gay-based humor. He and Downey make a classic comic duo. Monaghan works well as the hard-boiled, past the dewy years, aspiring Hollywood actress whose greatest claim to fame is one television commercial, repeatedly cut into the film to spoof its utter silliness–and point up Lanes’ limited talent. But Monaghan also shows the vulnerable, realistic side of the character and she and Downey achieve a pleasing chemistry on screen.