Review by Mark Walters


 Shane Black is a clever, clever man.  He pretty much set the standard for "buddy" films after writing action masterpieces like LETHAL WEAPON and THE LAST BOYSCOUT.  He also delivered screenplays for great flicks like THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and the underrated but fondly remembered THE MONSTER SQUAD.  Perhaps the only weak moment in his career came with the Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb LAST ACTION HERO, though I'm sure that's not entirely his fault.  The point is he knows how to write good movies.  Upon further inspection one would find that Black's work in Hollywood isn't quite as extensive as people might think.  Most likely that's because Shane only puts pen to paper when he has something decent in mind.  Now he's going beyond the pen and jumping behind the camera with his directorial debut KISS KISS BANG BANG.  The film stars Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, and yes, it's kind of a buddy picture.

 The film opens at a Hollywood party held by sleazy studio executive Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bernsen), where we're introduced through narration to Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.).  Explaining how a guy like him got where he is now, Harry leads us into a flashback.  During a botched robbery of a toy store, his friend gets killed, and Harry busts into a screen test while hiding from the cops.  Playing along in hopes of avoiding suspicion, his emotional stress actually ends up getting him the part, and next thing you know he's living the movie star lifestyle.  Harry ends up befriending a detective/film advisor named Perry (Val Kilmer), who happens to be gay, hence his nickname Gay Perry.  When his childhood friend Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) ends up in a spot of trouble, Harry enlists Perry's help, and the two of them try to solve a case without contacting the police.  But their antics end up getting them deeper and deeper into trouble, and Lockhart begins to rekindle some serious feelings for Harmony in the process.

 The movie is based on author Brett Halliday's novel BODIES ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM.  Like most Shane Black scripts, this one is just plain fun.  It's one of those movies that follows a familiar formula, but never takes itself too seriously.  In fact Black takes several opportunities through the narration to flat out poke fun at Hollywood movies in general.  Think MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER for an action film.  The character of Harry Lockhart is likable, but extremely flawed.  He's not smooth, nor is he all that smart.  In many ways he's a terrible hero, but that's part of the charm that makes it work so well.  Robert Downey Jr. is terrific in the role, using every opportunity to build on the character's inadequacies.  Val Kilmer is very good as well.  His character is gay, which allows for some hilarious jokes, but isn't overplayed like it easily could've been.  Truth be told he's used rather sparingly, which gives his presence more of an impact when it's there.  The real co-star here is Michelle Monaghan, who despite her initially smart introduction, is in many ways just as screwed up as our hero.  It's nice to see a fresh face in the female lead, as opposed to the "flavor of the month" female.  These three carry the film in style, and complement the screenplay in appropriate fashion.

Action film producer extraordinaire Joel Silver helped get this film made, at an impressively low-budget of $15 million.  It's impressive because this film looks every bit as good as most big-budget studio spectaculars.  They've done a lot with a little here, and it proves you don't have to break the bank to make a solid action film.  Shane Black succeeds behind the camera, and directs this flick with every bit as much style as some of the bigger names we'd expect to see on a movie like this.  His cavalier attitude toward the script and characters is so great that just about anyone could find something to enjoy here.  The movie also manages to pull off some cool twists and turns that the average filmgoer won't see coming.  The plot runs a little close to being too complicated, but the witty narration by Downey covers for it, practically reading our minds as we watch the events unfold.  KISS KISS BANG BANG is one of the best movies I've seen this year, and for unusual reasons at that.  It's so similar to great actions movies that have come before it, and yet so unique in it's own way.  I really hope it finds it's audience, as it truly deserves to.  At the very least the studio doesn't have as much to lose, which I'm sure helps put their minds at ease a little bit.  They might even forgive some of the jabs the script takes at their kind.  I remain a fan of Shane Black's work, and after this effort sincerely look forward to what he can cook up next. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give KISS KISS BANG BANG a 9.

Visit the official Warner Bros. KISS KISS BANG BANG movie website by clicking here.

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
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