Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Dash Mihok, Larry Miller, Rockmond Dunbar, Shannyn Sossamon, Angela Lindvall
Written by: Shane Black, partially based on a novel by Brett Halliday
Directed by: Shane Black
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 102
Date: 05/14/2005

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Big 'Bang'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shane Black was once the highly paid screenwriter of such lowbrow, high-concept, energetic, pulpy action films as Lethal Weapon (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). After nearly a decade off, he has returned with his directorial debut, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a cheapie by comparison, but more fun than anything he has yet done.

Rather than "A" list stars, Black has cast two of our greatest actors, Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, and given them a new chance to shine. Moreover, he has taken Michelle Monaghan, an actress who fades away in films like Unfaithful, It Runs in the Family and last week's North Country, and made her a star.

Downey plays Harry Lockhart, a small time thief who, while escaping the scene of a bungled robbery, stumbles into an acting audition and nails it. He gets shipped to Los Angeles and passed off to Gay Perry (Kilmer), a private eye who specializes in teaching sleuthing skills to actors. He also bumps into Harmony Faith Lane (Monaghan), a childhood friend grown up into an "over-the-hill" (i.e. thirty-something) actress.

The movie begins at a big Hollywood Christmas party, as Harry introduces all the characters. His funny, ironic narration sums up all the detective novels and movies ever created, so we know we're in for a wink-wink good time. The movie establishes one of its rules when Harry threatens to beat up one of his fellow partygoers and winds up pummeled into the lawn.

The plot has something to do with a bigwig, his estranged daughter and a murder case, but plot here takes a backseat to style and post-modern cool. Black directs with a zippy pace and clarity of action; the story goes by just fast enough that we can grasp at familiar bits, even if the big picture doesn't quite come together. In Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, characters read pulp fiction novels and talk with ridiculously infectious speed and weirdness. Thankfully, this is the kind of dialogue that sparks our three actors into zany life.

Most of all, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang sends the kind of love/hate letter to Los Angeles that Black has tried to convey in all his work, but here he gets it right. It's a place where being cool means everything, but eventually becomes exhausting. Black's new characters finally learn that it's okay to drop your guard and still be cool.

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