Review: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Robert Downey Jr. plays a small-time thief who escapes from the police after his latest job by inadvertently walking into an acting audition. Amazingly this lands him into contention for a new gig playing a private detective in a movie. Now in L.A., Downey is teamed with no-nonsense P.I. Val Kilmer, to get a feel for the part in preparation. So he gets to tag along with Kilmer (whose character happens to be gay) on his job. Downey also reunites with a childhood sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan) currently in L.A. to try and make it as an actress. The trio end up involved in a complex plot involving two dead bodies. Corbin Bernsen plays a philanthropist, producer, and former actor.

Before they teamed up for the wonderfully dopey “The Nice Guys”, writer-director Shane Black (previously the screenwriter of “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout”) and uber-action movie producer Joel Silver gave us this amusing 2005 detective/buddy comedy which marked Black’s directorial debut. The two films seem to inhabit similar worlds and share a thing for ne’er do well detective protagonists, but thankfully there’s enough differences that the later film isn’t a rip-off of this one. This one’s the lesser of the two films, with a slightly more confusing plot to contend with (though that’s pretty standard for noir, isn’t it?). However, it still proves funny enough to recommend with a few reservations.

I’m not sure whether the 60s-ish Saul Bass-ish titles design and music score by John Ottman (“The Usual Suspects”, “Superman Returns”, “Valkyrie”) really fit this contemporary setting, but both are fun nonetheless, the score is particularly enjoyable. Robert Downey Jr. is ideally cast, or more to the point the Robert Downey Jr. persona is ideally cast here. It’s all wrong for the superhero genre, but flippant, sarcastic, flirty bad boy Downey is all right for this film. I especially loved that his character seems easily confused and possibly not quite conscious throughout. It makes for a funny idea for a lead character in a detective noir. There’s a particularly brilliant bit where Michelle Monaghan is delivering an emotional rant and Downey drifts off into thought before even losing focus on that because he realises he can see Monaghan’s nipple. Only Robert Downey Jr. could make something like that work. A subsequent moment involving a spider and Monaghan’s cleavage, and another with Downey making a discovery mid-urination are also priceless. Then there’s the scene where his terrible aptitude for mathematics leads to a dead person, which is darkly funny. When he’s on and cast in the right kind of film, there are few actors more fun to watch than rascally, super-talented Downey.

Val Kilmer isn’t what I’d call a natural comedian, but here and in “Top Secret!” he can occasionally be called upon to provide a fine straight man. Although both actors have had troubles/reputations over the years, together they make for a fun team. I will say though, that I had reservations about the Kilmer character. Playing a gay P.I. and technical consultant for Hollywood, I’m not entirely certain that Black isn’t using a gay protagonist as an excuse to get away with some homophobic or at least stereotypically gay jabs. So the humour didn’t always rub me the right way. As for Michelle Monaghan, on the ‘boy are Hollywood determined to make her a thing’ scale she’s at least better than some who have been tried out (Monica Potter, Joanna Going, and Gretchen Mol spring to mind), but even in 2017 she still hasn’t found her one big role. This certainly wasn’t it either, but she’s pleasant enough I suppose.

There’s some really funny stuff in this film, and enough to enjoy for me to recommend even if I do have a couple of qualms here and there. Downey and Kilmer are an excellent team.

Rating: B-


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