Monday, December 05, 2005
Shane Black is BACK!
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr.,
Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Anyone who knows my screenwriting taste knows that Shane Black is my own personal hero. A good screenwriter (or any writer for that matter) will find a hero such as this and steal every great trick that writer has and apply it to his own personal style.
Good artists create…Great artists steal.
- Pablo Picasso
Okay, done with the quotes. On to the review.
Shane Black had huge success with his first script “Lethal Weapon,” which went on to become the great Richard Donner-directed franchise with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. It basically redefined the buddy-action thriller.
Black followed up with “The Last Boy Scout” which sold for $3.5 million. Although not a huge success, “Boy Scout” (directed by Tony Scott) was a good comeback for Bruce Willis and has earned its place in the action hall of fame over time.
Undeterred, Black then churned out the $5 million-selling “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” an ambitious and inventive action caper that was directed by Renny Harlin. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, the film tanked at the box office. Personally, I love “Long Kiss” and revere it as one of my all-time favorite films. I blame marketing as most people that see (and really enjoy) the film later on DVD, say that they’d never even heard of it before.
“Long Kiss” left a bad stain on Black’s record, however. He went into seclusion and hasn’t been heard (or read) from in almost ten years.
Finally, we’ve got a Shane Black movie. The question is: Is the film more “Lethal Weapon” or more “Long Kiss Goodnight?”
The answer is a resounding “neither.”
“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” is Black in top form and reinventing himself into a more subtle and almost sweet-natured arena, yet still retaining that sharp edge that has defined his body of work.
All the clever winks, the sudden surprises, the ballsy moves, and the unexpected twists are here. And then some.
Black has always proclaimed his love of the old mystery detective stories (many shades of this can be seen in “The Last Boy Scout”) and this is his love letter to that genre. Shane Black-style.
The story centers on Harry (Robert Downey Jr.), who is a thief that stumbles into a test screening while running from the police after a botched robbery. Harry is so emotional after just witnessing his partner getting shot that he plays along with the test screening in perfect form, prompting him to be cast in a detective movie role.
From this moment on, Harry narrates the entire film, which feels more like sitting on the couch with him telling you the story, backtracking and all. Downey has a blast doing this and makes it fun for the audience, rather than dull and overbearing.
Harry rides the act out and is set up to get detective lessons from “Gay” Perry (Val Kilmer) a private detective that is, in fact, gay. Perry is a mean and arrogant asshole of a detective and lets everyone know this. You’d never know he’s actually gay without a few comments here and there. I think the “gay” aspect of the character actually adds an interesting layer, because I found myself actually questioning if he really was gay throughout the film.
At a Hollywood party, Harry runs into an old high-school sweetheart named Harmony (Michelle Monaghan). Harry is instantly reconnected with Harmony and does everything he can to stay close to her, even lying about being a real detective.
Now, to delve too deeply into the twisted plot would spoil the entire movie. Let’s just say: some dead bodies appear, Harry and Perry are involved, then Harmony is involved, and the twists just keep on coming as Harry, Perry, and Harmony all try to solve the mystery, which involves a dead heiress, a dead sister, and lots of money (as is usually the case)
The strength and charm of the film is the interaction of the characters. There is never a dull moment or boring scene. If you’re checking your watch in this film, then you should take yourself to see “Chicken Little.”
The three main characters are all seriously flawed and yet you find yourself rooting for each one of them. They never become boring or clichéd and are definitely full of surprises.
Black has crafted a film in which you may, if very attentive, predict the outcome of the mystery, but you’ll never predict the reaction of the characters involved in it.
The dialogue is classic Black with a level of maturity that has developed over his solitude. Gone are the overzealous tongue-in-cheek comments, which are now replaced with subtle and sharp bits of wit.
Every actor in this film shines; especially it’s three main stars. It’s as if they truly recognized what great material they were working with and really lived it up. Robert Downey Jr. is hardly your commercial “go-to-guy” for a detective action film, but he pulls it off great and being a great actor to boot doesn’t hurt. Downey plays Harry with a neurotic and naïve spirit that never quits. Harry wants to do the right thing, he just doesn’t know how.
Val Kilmer is simply awesome as “the gay detective.” He plays Perry like an uncaring asshole that has been around the block, but is struggling with being a good person and doing the right thing as well. The “gay” aspect of his character is so well written that it never takes away from the enjoyment of the film (which isn’t an issue unless you’re a homophobe)
Michelle Monaghan has a unique opportunity here: she has a great role. Rarely does a female role come along that has meat on the bones and scenery to chew. Moynaghan embodies this role and gives Harmony such great depth and humor that she is just utterly loveable and, naturally, a beautiful and sexy woman.
In the end, after all the twists and turns and a violent, blowout finale, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” left me entirely satisfied. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments (many of which I found myself the only one laughing) and witty banter to keep even the sternest of viewers enticed.
This is a truly original film, which shines largely in part because of the characters. This is a rare thing. Usually it’s the special effects or you “just think so-and-so is hot.” And in case you’re wondering if Black can direct; oust your fears. Black has an excellent eye for the screen. The cinematography is excellent and rivals that of the A-list directors that have adapted his material in the past.
Shane Black has crafted a greatly interwoven piece of work that stands outside the usual tirade of by-the-numbers filmmaking and has let the movie-going public know, as well as Hollywood itself, that he’s got more than one trick up his sleeve.
If you live in Anchorage and don’t rush to see this before it’s gone, then you truly have no idea what you’re missing.
Movie Grade: A+