Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Movie: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Go see this one. Trust me. It’s a blast.

Shane Black was screenwriting’s poster boy in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, scoring huge paydays for action scripts with wildly outsized characters. LETHAL WEAPON reinvented the form and contains a genuine edge of danger. THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT is uneven, but at its best it plays like a daft popcorn masterpiece.

Now Black is directing as well as writing, and it turns out he’s the best interpreter of his own work. He knows that for all the over-the-top slam-bang going on, his stories are actually about people driven by forces they can’t control or understand to find the truth. The secret of boy’s own adventure movies is that boys actually believe this stuff.

Robert Downey, Junior plays a two-bit New York thief mistaken for an actor. He’s shipped out to Los Angeles to audition for a role under the guidance of a tough gay P.I. (Val Kilmer). The two become embroiled in a convoluted murder plot out of a ‘40s crime novel. Quite literally: Black based his script in part on one of Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne mysteries. The story even includes a series of cheap detective paperbacks that look like the Shayne books. Dig those crazy covers.

Not that the plot matters. It’s an excuse for Black to send up storytelling clichés in movies and in mysteries while at the same time revealing how satisfying they can be when used effectively.

Downey has never been better. He’s finally in a movie that matches his hell-for-leather metabolism. And Kilmer, who started in comedies like TOP SECRET! and the underrated REAL GENIUS, blows the roof off the place. Their scenes together crackle with a crazy, hellzapoppin’ energy. It’s like watching one of the great comedy teams of yesteryear. Normally I’d never say this, but here goes: I want a sequel. Bad.