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Originally published October 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 28, 2005 at 9:30 AM

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Movie Review

"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang": Noir parody is dark dark, laugh laugh

Not to be confused with at least four other movies with the same title (not to mention a famous book of essays by the late New Yorker film...

Special to The Seattle Times

Not to be confused with at least four other movies with the same title (not to mention a famous book of essays by the late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael), "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is a calculated gamble that paid off.

Written and directed by Shane Black, who wrote "Lethal Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout," "Kiss Kiss" is a playfully willful parody of tough-and-violent genre thrillers from film noir to "Pulp Fiction." The engine of its satire, however, is the film's unlikely marriage to a rat-a-tat tradition of wordy Hollywood comedies, from Frank Capra to Billy Wilder, with a measure of Blake Edwards' sophisticated slapstick thrown in.

Small-time thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), having stumbled into an audition for a movie while running from the police, ends up at a crowded L.A. poolside party where he confronts a creep about to prey on the sleeping Harmony (Michelle Monaghan).

Movie review 3 stars

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"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," with Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan. Directed by Shane Black, from a screenplay by Black, partly based on a novel by Brett Halliday. 105 minutes. Rated R for language, nudity and graphic violence. Meridian.

Harry launches into a threatening monologue so gritty, so unnerving one assumes only a fool would tangle with such a dark hero and his code of honor.

The next thing you know, Harry is getting pummeled by the sleazy villain on the lawn, then watches as an unsuspecting Harmony — who turns out to be Harry's childhood dream girl — leaves the party with the guy.

In a nutshell, that's how things work in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." Black, making his directorial debut, nods at one or another convention, from mystery or detective fiction, then leaps to comic irony, then back again.

The point isn't so much to undermine conventions as to tell a story about a hero who isn't up to the standards of a great genre tradition.

Harry's a mess, but a well-meaning mess. He narrates the film like a hardened noir hero should, but he forgets important details and has to retrace his steps. Paired with private detective Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) for role research (Harry's studying for a screen test), Harry witnesses, along with Perry, the aftermath of a killing. But any thought of a smooth, crime-fighting partnership goes up in smoke when the two, exasperated with one another, commence a relationship based on trading rapid-fire insults.

Black misses the mark here and there, but the film never stands still and bad jokes are quickly displaced by good ones. "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang's" real achievement, however, is in the integrity of the film's starkest moments: Harry watching the life drain from some poor soul; Perry treating a helpless man harshly for the pain the latter caused an innocent.

This comic film knows when to let darkness speak for itself.

Tom Keogh:

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