This is a gem of a film. Written and directed by Shane Black (who wrote all the Lethal Weapon movies), and starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan, it is a hilarious "fusion of buddy movie and hardboiled noir" (-DVD case), that charmed me with its unpredictable twists and turns, and it's clever dialogue ("She opened the door and had nothing on but the radio."). It has got to be one of the best neo-noir films out there, thanks to the dark yet colourful atmospheric cinematography of Michael Barrett, and the creative direction by Black. But most of the praise should be rightly accorded to Downey and Kilmer, both of whose performances are hilarious, touching, and quite dynamic. Downey plays petty criminal Harry Lockhart, who, in New York City, literally on the run from the police, storms unknowingly into an audition room, where he delivers what the producers read as a stunning grief-stricken performance. Lockhart is then sent to LA for screen tests where he is teamed up with Perry (Kilmer), a gay local private detective who also serves as a consultant for studios and actors. Harry and Gay Perry go out on a job, and soon get wrapped up in a mystery fit for a Raymond Chandler novel, with twists and turns, several bodies, and a severed ring finger. Everyone seems to have at least one gun and bodies appear around seemingly every corner as the plot unravels itself.
Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart.
Val Kilmer as Gay Perry.
Shane Black impressively keeps it all on track and coherent, and also draws some fantastic performances from his leads. Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry perfectly, taking a page right out of the pulp novels of the 1940s, playing his thief/actor/P.I. as a wounded man (both emotionally and physically) with tenderness and wit. Val Kilmer is also brilliant in what is most likely one of the best roles of his career. Kilmer could have taken this role way over the top, but he plays it perfectly; he is so subtly gay and quite sly, and he's also tough and doesn't take any crap from anyone. And when these two are put together their back and forth banter and altercations hint at a genuine growing friendship. They also just plain look like they had fun making this film. Downey does double-duty by also taking on the role of our very self-aware narrator, who directly talks to the audience, making references to how well he himself is doing on the narration, and politely asking us to suspend our disbelief in different scenes with lines like "I know this is kind of a stretch, and I hate it when they do this in movies, but honestly, this is how it really happened!" They've found a loop-hole for the narration, where Downey can make light of some potential flaws in the film. It kind of walks a line which could easily go wrong, but here it works, because Downey is so charming in the conversational way he talks to us.
It's no wonder that so many film noirs--old and new--are set in Hollywood. It is such an interesting city in the way that it lures countless people from all over the continent with promises of fame and fortune, and by it's very nature is set to disappoint 95% of them. Obvously, this leads to some already very eccentric people experiencing fleeting moments of success, and the resulting rollercoaster of emotions and substance abuse, which Kiss Kiss Bang Bang touches on. It's a ruthless place; beautiful, bright and warm on the surface, yet underneath a cold, depraved city of greed and egos. The sheer desperation people arrive at in the hope of "making it" is kind of upsetting, but it's also perfect for a satirical film.
Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Lane.
This is one of my favorite movies right now, thanks to the homage to film noir of old, the skewering of contemporary Hollywood, it's Saul Bass inspired opening credits, and most definitely the stellar performances by Downey and Kilmer. (Sidenote: It also features Angela Lindvall in a miniscule role as Flicka, an airline hostess. You may remember Angela Lindvall as Valentine/Agent Codename Dragonfly from Roman Coppola's CQ, one of my favorite films of all time!) But see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it is such an enjoyable romp through neo-noir Hollywood and a worthy homage to the noirs from the Chandler-Huston-Bogart-Bacall era. Brilliant!