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Rated 3 stars
by 1192 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Original and Comical
by Diana Saenger

By this time of the year, many moviegoers are so jaded by all the bad films they’ve paid to see, it’s easy for them to overlook a good one. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is one of the most original movies of the year, and adults who can endure the kind of “R” rating that accompanies a dark comedy like this are sure to be entertained.  

Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a petty thief. When running from the police after a burglary, he ducks into a casting audition, and puts on a heartfelt performance -- mainly because one of his fellow burglars was shot and killed, and Harry feels responsible. Before he can dry his eyes, he’s hired and shipped off to Los Angeles for a possible film role.

While mingling among Hollywood’s eclectic entertainers at a party, Harry meets Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a private investigator. Even though it’s no secret that Perry is gay, he has a hard edge about him. Harry admires Perry’s self-confidence and hires Perry to teach him how to be more believable in his upcoming role as P.I.

Almost as quick as the men can snag another drink from the bar, they’re embroiled in several intertwined real murder mysteries. Perry may seem like he knows what he’s doing, but he can’t explain how he and Harry end up in one run-for-their-lives moment after another.

Along the way Harry becomes infatuated with his ideal woman, Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan of The Bourne Supremacy), who is trying to find a real life hero who measures up with her fictional hero, Johnny Grossamer. Maybe, she thinks, Harry’s the one, so she’s pleased when Harry agrees to help her find out why her sister supposedly committed suicide.

Screenwriter Shane Black, who also makes his directing debut with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, delivers one of the best screenplays of the year and captures every element that makes his film fresh and enjoyable. It’s packed with action, just like his Lethal Weapon script was in 1987. Covering the world of private investigators as in his screenplay of The Long Kiss Goodnight (1966), it has ingenious dialogue, as most of his movies do.

What Black does best in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, however, is to combine the comic book world and film noir in a contemporary setting, thus presenting the best of the past with the newness of the present.

If the name Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang sounds familiar, that’s because it’s fairly common. The Japanese press originated the term "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" in the 1960s as a nickname for James Bond, and several films have used that title since then.  Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is also based in part on the novel by Brett Halliday.

The casting of the movie couldn’t be better. Fans of Robert Downey, Jr. have been holding their collective breaths waiting to see him in true form again on the big screen. There’s a scene near the beginning of the film when Harry totters on the edge of the pool, fully clothed. Downey’s teetering action in some small way reminded me of his incredible performance in Chaplin (1992), for which he received an Oscar nomination. It also offered a promise of more good stuff to come from this incredible actor, and that’s fulfilled in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Partly narrating his actions to the audience or apologizing for skipping a scene, Downey may be the only actor who could pull this off with amusing aplomb. He delivers Black’s fast-paced and clever dialogue presumably just as Black intended. Surely part of the reason Downey works so well as Harry is that the character and Downey’s real lives mirror each other. Even so, that’s another facet of the actor’s talent. Sometimes he’s so good in a role, it feels like he’s not acting at all, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. I’m thrilled to see Downey working again and look forward to seeing the other eight films he’s already completed or has in production.

Black is also great at turning an idea on its head, and there’s plenty of that in this movie, which adds another notch of freshness to the story. The usually grave but tough Kilmer delivers a convincing portrayal of a gay man here as he plays off Downey’s half-witted but lucky Harry. Together these two are definitely the odd couple. Kilmer deserves praise for pulling off his role so well.

Michelle Monaghan is no slouch either. She goes toe–to–toe with Kilmer and Downey in all the scenes, including several which are action packed and require some good stunt work. “Michelle was so full of appropriate anxiety because it was a do-or-die scene…I knew by the end of shooting the scene that she was a movie star,” remarked Downey after one scene.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has a few drawbacks. In addition to a frequently confusing plot and  Black’s choice of visual colorization, which I found annoying at times, the movie probably won’t be a good bet for those who don’t like black comedy. For anyone else, it’s a great choice.

 (Released by Warner Bros. and rated “R” for language, violence and sexuality/nudity.)

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