Movie Review by Toby White
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen
Director: Shane Black
Here’s a movie there should be a big deal about. Put it this way, if you’re reading this review you have a modicum of interest in films, have therefore heard of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, have enough interest to consider seeing it and, hence, you’re still with me. But let’s assume you’re not massively into movies and haven’t heard of this film, have no idea who Shane Black is and… you’re still with me. Okay. Shane Black is the most famous Hollywood alumnus you’ve never heard of. At 23 he stormed Hollywood, penning the script for LETHAL WEAPON and ushering in a new genre, the buddy action comedy. Well, if you discount BUTCH CASSIDY. Either way, he turned the ‘action 80s’ around in one deft sweep of his pen. Subsequent scripts for THE LAST BOY SCOUT and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT followed, before he took a very extended sabbatical. The point is he’s back and KKBB follows him with much expectation, not least because he’s also directing. With that knowledge, you’re one step up on the ladder to appreciating this movie.
KKBB is a noir-ish action comedy with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Set in LA, Downey Jr plays Harry Lockhart, a petty thief who stumbles into a screen test while pursued by the police. He’s immediately flown out to LA and assigned to a private detective, Perry (Kilmer) and consultant to Hollywood, to develop his character by following a case Perry’s investigating. There he bumps into Harmony (Monaghan), childhood friend and struggling actress (isn’t everybody). They share memories of magic tricks and pulp stories (the hero of these, Johnny Gossamer, inspiring Harry’s faux bravado) but Harmony’s sister’s suicide and Perry’s case prove to have alarming coincidences and soon Harry’s embroiled in a real-life murder mystery.
Clearly Black’s writing what he does best and what he knows and it’s naturally littered with in-jokes and references to Hollywood and to film making but without the distanced patronising the similarly-set films do, where they’ve omitted such references thinking us ‘lay people’ wouldn’t get them. It’s as though Black is shameless in his setting of the story and his characters, there’s a sarcasm to it that takes the mickey out of Hollywood and it’s a lot of fun. By contrast any requisite emotional moments (necessary structurally to prevent this being a pointless two-dimensional piece) are handled with an almost British avoidance of the issue, but that’s ideal. These aren’t characters we’re supposed to develop an emotional bond with, this is simply a rollicking roller-coaster of a caper movie. And it’s punctuated by Downey Jr’s 19-to-the-dozen voice-over. Don’t be surprised if you lose the plot, it doesn’t matter anyway, it goes by so quickly the disjointed bits won’t last long before we’re back to another cracking scene between Kilmer and Downey Jr. And they really are cracking. The comedy’s wonderfully clever (a taster: the script Downey Jr reads in his “audition” just happens to be about just the situation he’s in), the dialogue is snappy (retorts are delivered that you wish you could think of) and the action is crisp, to the point and not completely superfluous to the plot.
In short, KKBB is a cool movie. Not retro cool, like Tarantino, not Steve McQueen cool, just cool. If you want something with depth, this isn’t for you (Downey and Kilmer’s epilogue sum the sentiment up rather nicely) but if you want to see cinema as entertainment and have the odd dig at Hollywood, Shane Black’s your man.