In the 1980’s and early 1990’s Shane Black was the go-to man if you needed a buddy action film written. From “Lethal Weapon” to “Last Action Hero,” “Last Boy Scout,” and “Long Kiss Goodnight,” he was as endowed – his expertise was in crowd-pleasing quick-quips and profanity, over-the-top action sequences and homophobic humor – as he was wealthy.
Quicker than a tray of uncovered mince around a hungry cat, though – he just disappeared, making way for a hundred over-excited hacks to find employ on every ‘blood and bullets’ escapade that followed.
Black’s now returned, both as writer and director (his first stint behind the camera), for “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” – a movie that brazenly reads as a ‘What I learnt in Hollywood’ from the eminent screenwriter.
From the in-jokes to the character stereotypes, nonsensical action sequences and sardonic outline – Black’s seemingly yanked every memory of his Hollywood years from his noggin, put them down on paper and taken a Nikon to it. The result? A blast. (And for once, surprising enough – especially considering we’re talking about a Black penned film, we’re not talking about the explosions).
A tongue-in-cheek mish-mash of laughs, satire, action and also, a Mickey-ing of the classic detective movie, the L.A. set film centers on an accidental actor named Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a cocky and dishevelled charmer who right away introduces himself to us as the hero and narrator. Over the course of the film’s 104 minutes – he explains how he got to this place.
Detective Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) – or ‘Gay Perry’ as he’s warmly known – agrees to coach Harry for a screen test. Instead, Perry gets more than he bargained for – getting dragged into a convoluted murder mystery that involves an edgy heroine (Michelle Monaghan), a mysterious ex-Hollywood player (Corbin Bernsen, in a small, but no doubt, since he’s been swimming in telemovie land for far too long, welcome role), some welcomingly over-the-top henchman and a couple of corpses. One way or another, they’ll get to the bottom of it.
Black’s writing is superb. From the film’s splashings of black humor (bad guys dying in ludicrous ways, body parts getting chopped off, dead bodies being treated ever so disrespectfully) to his poke at Hollywood (infinite name-dropping, a few jabs at some of Hollywood’s biggest names, and notably, a nitpick at how most genre movies are usually structured), it’s just spot-on. The well-merited rest has obviously done Black good, and he returns, revitalised and re-energised, but surprisingly, ready-and-armed to attack the genre he made his name in. His defence? Simply a cinematic translation of Brett Halliday’s novel, “Bodies Are Where You Find Them”.
Acting-wise, Downey Jr. is his usual dependable self as the multi-faceted Harry, whilst Kilmer displays his rarely used comic chops as the always-dependable Perry. Again, credit should also go to Black for penning such well-defined, so-real-their-funny characters.
“Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” starts to dip in it’s third act, but like a see-saw – it does go back up again, and just in time to have us walking away satisfied, amused and confident that there’s still some fresh ideas over there in Tinseltown.
One of the coolest and most memorable films of 2005 – I just want to see it again.