By Brad Cook | June 16, 2006

While the story in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” may not be spectacular, Harold (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) make this film a great roller coaster of a ride. Harold is a petty thief who stumbles into a casting call while running from the cops. Seizing the moment, he turns in a performance that lands him in Hollywood, where he works with Perry, a private detective who consults on movies.

When Perry takes Harold along on a stake-out, however, a seemingly routine evening goes haywire. A pair of dead bodies pop up within a couple hours, and soon Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), a down-on-her-luck actress who is from the same small Indiana town as Harold, gets pulled into the situation.

Needless to say, the problems escalate as the three of them try to make sense of what’s happening. Harold and Harmony were both childhood fans of a series of cheesy pulp detective novels whose scenarios inspire them to dig deeper into the mystery. Perry vacillates between being repelled by what they’re doing and being intrigued by it, and eventually the story careens to a conclusion that would seem far-fetched, if not for the fact that writer/director Shane Black is clearly satirizing the whole film noir genre here.

Harold’s narration is one of the film’s highlights, although the best bits play out early. The snappy give-and-take between him and Perry is consistently great, however, with a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm that also serves to tweak the typical hard-boiled detective story. The very end, though, where Harold talks into a camcorder to sum up the film, unfortunately pushes a funny idea too far. Sometimes you have to know when to stop, especially considering the fact that Black wanted to also deal with some serious subject matter in the film, as he mentions in the commentary. But that doesn’t kill “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” fortunately.

Black is joined in the commentary by Downey and Kilmer. I’ve listened to several group commentaries now, and I have to say they’re the worst arrangement, especially if there are three or more people. Two people are okay, especially if they have a rapport and they get into a good discussion of the film, but more than that and it seems like everyone just wants to party. Why not record them separately and edit together the best parts?

On this track, Kilmer and Downey mostly goof around while Black tries to interject some interesting points here and there. They’re funny, of course, but I would have enjoyed to hear some more about how the film came about. Like, what’s that “partly based on the novel by” thing in the credits? How did the film develop? Why did Black want to make his directing debut with it? Alas, we’re treated to plenty of kidding around and reminiscences about being on the set, but little in the way of interesting information.

The theatrical trailer and a four-and-a-half-minute gag reel round out this disc.

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