Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Rating unavailable. For showtimes, please see page 90
Onetime Tinseltown wunderkind Shane Black has no shortage of reasons to hate Hollywood. At age 22 he penned 1987's Lethal Weapon, almost single-handedly inventing the wildly successful, wisecracking buddy-cop genre. Nine years later he was finished, tarred partly for his role as a cowriter of The Last Action Hero, a bomb so big Arnold Schwarzenegger never fully recovered. AWOL from screenwriter's-guild meetings for nearly a decade, Black makes a jaw-dropping return-and his directorial debut-with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Sharply written and as whip-smart as it is cheekily subversive, the film is a vicious critique of Hollywood masquerading as a tribute to the private-dick flicks of the '40s and '50. It's The Day of the Locust meets L.A. Confidential, set in a thoroughly modern (and therefore soulless) Los Angeles where the first desperate question out of every wannabe player's mouth is "What do you do?"
Black isn't the only former golden boy who stages a triumphant comeback here. Professional fuckup Robert Downey Jr. narrates the film as Harry Lockhart, a petty thief who, mistaken for an actor, is flown out to L.A. to screen-test for a detective movie. After landing in La La Land he hires dashing-and gay-detective Perry van Shrike (played with perma-tanned cool by tabloid bad boy Val Kilmer) to teach him everything he knows about the job. When fabulously monikered femme fatale Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan, proving smart is always sexy) slinks into the picture, the bodies start piling up.
Forget trying to make sense of the convoluted plot, the fun here is, only fittingly, in Black's words. Seemingly determined to out-Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino, he mows down everyone from Drew Barrymore to Colin Farrell to, hilariously, the studio heads who probably green-lighted Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with his Gatling-gun dialogue. His aim is never less than deadly, with the meta-movie shtick allowing Downey (who's finally learned the value of restraint) to take lethal shots at an industry where commerce trumps art almost every time. Long after you've forgotten the gunfire and car chases that first made Black famous, you'll remember lines that the scriptwriter had 10 years in exile to work on. It was worth the wait.