louferrigno’s review published on Letterboxd:
In 1996, Shane Black penned the film The Long Kiss Goodnight, creating a respectable, if low-tier, script that would see moderate critical praise box and made back its budget, but didn't match the level of success of his prior works. In an act of trying to think outside the box and step up his game, the action raconteur tried his hand at making a romantic comedy, something completely different and a little quirky even from the guy who co-wrote The Monster Squad. However, Shane's drafts grew worse the more he kept at it, and eventually he realized he couldn't resist throwing in a murder or a buddy cop in the mix in an attempt to save his project. This, however, would prove beneficial, and the end result would be Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a triumphant directorial debut that proudly harkens to the detective novels and films of the 40's, even if it's own mystery proves needlessly complex.
Using the natural charisma of Robert Downey Jr. to his advantage, Black utilizes him for an irreverent narration structure, having him directly discuss and mock the events that transpire based on the perspective of his character Harry Lockhart. Fitting in with the snarky wit that permeates throughout Black's script, as well as the usual quick thinking of the detectives of the past, the use of narration taunts the audience and teases information in a way that is entirely endearing rather than obnoxious, and makes for a welcome companion. This element, however, disappears by the time the mystery of the film really gets going, making its sudden re-appearance later on the film somewhat jarring and thrown in. Still, it is utilized in a new novel way, letting Lockhart's fruedian slips and non-chronological memory act as a humerous balance to the incisive jabs at cliches the film gleefully takes part in.
Through detective work performed by Lockhart and partner Gay Perry (which comes about through Lockhart getting experience for a role and mistakenly introducing himself to his crush from youth, Harmony, as such), the plot weaves and intersects as two seemingly different cases complicate themselves, never fully revealing how they seem to connect with each other until the two put the pieces together and always makes for at least an engaging time trying to solve them (or, re-solve them in my case). In trying to keep in line with the twisty noirs of Raymond Chandler Black has cited as influences (something shown through each chapter title being lifted from one of his works), the plot tends to feel needlessly complex, as numerous details, characters, and minutiae are vital in unraveling the tale, and it's not unreasonable to get slightly lost in the conniving crimes (if you're a dum-dum like me that is, hey-o)
With Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the one thing that it's expected to excel at, and does so even revisiting it, is the level of dry wit and humor laced throughout the film's DNA. Black knows his audience well enough to take a standard cliche in a generic action film and turn it into something comical and hilarious (like a botched attempt at Russian Roulette). The level of subtle scorn that Val Kilmer (as Gay Perry) levels at Downey always reveals a sharp chemistry between the two, making me fully believe when the two can get along and when the two briefly hate their guts. As the ironic juxtaposition of such humor with the grave danger coalesces, as well as gives little hints of L.A. in the middle of a Winter Wonderland, the strengths of the film overcome the weaknesses enough to be a solid caper. Black would go on to refine his directorial career over the years, but this is a damn good start that most would kill for.
Side-note: With the cameo of the Mexican Santa Claus movie from '59, as well as a brief gag involving an party attendant's prior movie history, methinks Shane Black enjoys a lot of schlocky B-movie garbage, and that just gives me another reason to love him so.