Monday, September 26, 2011

Flick of The Day: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

The life of the screenwriter is often lamented as being the bottom rung on the Hollywood ladder, with numerous anecdotes down through the years of how they have had their work destroyed by the studios and incompetent executives. This is perhaps overplayed though and as the industry has developed they have become as much a part of the system as anything else. Perhaps the career of Shane Black is an example of this, writing his first script in six weeks aged 23, his agent would sell Lethal Weapon in 3 days for $250,000. Black would go on to write some of the biggest action pictures of the era such as The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight for ever increasing sums. Then he seemed to disappear off the radar for a few years before returning with today's flick of the day which he wrote and directed, the wonderful post modern noir Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.
Robert Downey Jr is Harry Lockhart a down on his luck thief in New York City who while attempting to escape from the police, happens upon an open audition for a Hollywood film. Impressing the producer with his, "old school method" acting he is soon whisked out to Los Angeles for a screen test. Acting as an inconsistent and at time satirical narrator of his own story, Downey Jr is excellent as Harry. The film opens as Harry arrives at a party in the Hollywood hills, we are soon introduced to an old flame from his youth and aspiring actress Harmony, played by the beautiful Michelle Monaghan and Private Eye Gay Perry who is to give Harry detective lessons. Val Kilmer thoroughly enjoys his role as the tough homosexual Perry. Together they stumble across a plot to murder an heiress and frame Harry for it. 
The real strength of Black's directorial début is the concentration on characterisation with strong turns from Downey Jr and a great ensemble cast. This is combined with a strong mystery story that steals from some of the greats of the genre like Chandler and Hammet. The plotting never feels too dense and is compelling until the final scene. It helps of course that the script is at times quite funny and self referential. Downey's Harry is a narrator who is forever mocking the different conventions of the genre while finding fun in the least obvious places. At one point, Harry says

                  "Don't worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I'm not going to end this 17 times"

There are some great quotable lines, many of which are for Val Kilmer as the flamboyant Gay Perry who combines his role as the (non) straight guy with a dry wit.
While it is slick and very aware of its place as a genre film, it is still and entertaining piece of action comedy. So much of the current releases are so terribly po faced and this is a refreshing change.

Perry: You don't get it, do you? This isn't "good cop, bad cop." This is fag and New Yorker. You're in a lot of trouble.

While Robert Downey Jr has since gone on to be as big a star as he ever was, it is worth remembering that this was one of the first tentative steps back on to the big screen after his much publicised addictions. It showed how good an actor he could be, which should never have been in doubt.
All in all, a fine film which makes the best of the talents at its disposal. Downey Jr would go on to be one of the biggest stars in the world at the moment and Kilmer would enjoy a revival as a character actor. While Shane Black has largely directed music videos since this, he has recently been signed on to direct the third instalment of the Iron Man franchise, starring of course Robert Downey Jr. Well worth your time.

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