Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer
Black is back. No, not Sirius Black – that’s Harry Potter 4. Shane Black. Who? Duh. The million-dollar-baby who penned Lethal Weapon at the age of 22. The wunderscribe who got wodges of dosh in the late 80s and early 90s for smart-mouthed action movies with a buddy-buddy riff and whipcrack violence. But since the Last Boy Scout and the Long Kiss Goodnight, Black’s career simply faded to grey. Now, in one of cinemas most unlikely comebacks, Black is back as both writer and debut director. And he’s teamed up with two names equally synonymous with box-office poison – Val Kilmer and the tabloids’ friend Robert Downey Jr. It really shouldn’t work. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang hits the screen running and doesn’t pause for breath. Bold and stylish, literate and funny, Bang Bang is a film noir action comedy thriller that scores on almost every level.
Fleeing from police, Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr) is a petty thief who stumbles into a movie audition and ad libs himself into private detective flick. With real life gay private eye Perry van Shrike (Kilmer), as a mentor, Harry is soon up to his eyes in Hollywood noir. A chance meeting with childhood friend Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) isn’t chance at all but the key to a murder and the start of a tortuous path to the truth. A path littered with corpses, shaggy dogs and a missing finger. It’s that sort of story.
Shot through with Black humour and wincey violence, Bang Bang has a quirky take on film noir essentials. The voice-over narration isn’t the 50s formula stuff (riffed in Sin City); Harry tells his own tale but gabs it, rewinding the movie to the bits he forgot and assuring the cinema audience he saw the last Lord of the Rings too and won’t take ages to end the film. Chapter headings from Raymond Chandler bookend the film’s sections and there’s a sexy siren for Harry to protect. Pity that Black had to sour it by having Monaghan undergo unnecessary topless titillation. But this isn’t Sin City or a Tarantino movieburger – although if you like them, you’ll love this. Bang Bang is far more substantial and more human. Black’s script mourns every death and every injury hurts; Harry wants Harmony, not just her bod.
The characters are perfectly played - Kilmer’s cool sophistication working against Downey Jr’s washed-out anti-hero. Peppered with wit, Bang Bang does jokes about adverbs and linear narrative. But also has nasty pratfalls and clunky gay humour (mostly from Kilmer’s ‘Gay Perry’ character).
It won’t have enough kiss or bang for some people. It’s not an action-fest and isn’t always coherent. But it’s smart and funny, shocking and engaging. Chock full of postmodern irony too, if you like such terms. The title was coined in the 60s by a critic summarizing ‘the basic appeal of movies’. Happily, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s appeal is far from basic.