Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ★★★★½

When thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr) inadvertently wins a screen test he’s sent to Hollywood, becoming embroiled in a murder investigation alongside a gay private eye (Val Kilmer) and a struggling actress (Michelle Monaghan), in Shane Black’s black comedy mystery co-starring Corbin Bernsen, Shannyn Sossamon and Larry Miller.

An irreverent, darkly witty sensibility runs through the film, with Black’s gift for snappy dialogue and tight plotting shining through. He’s able to walk that fine balance between sending up tropes while also embracing them, creating a genuinely engaging mystery that never takes itself seriously. There’s a pulpy, hazy atmosphere that feels like one of those old detective paperbacks brought to life, shot through with a postmodern knowingness that enhances the humour.

At just over an hour and a half hardly a moment feels wasted, propelled along by an infectious energy that’s a joy to watch, with the energetic and inventive narration style quickly drawing me in, the inventive way of telling the story providing a lot of the humour. Black knows the key to a good noir is less about the actual case and more to do with the people solving it, and it’s ultimately the strong characters that make it work so well.

Downey brings a perfect blend of snark and charm to the proceedings, perfectly setting the overall tone and showing that despite all of his past setbacks he was still a force to be reckoned with. The three leads have a great dynamic, each making the most of the sharp writing to create engaging and developed characters, with Monaghan especially bringing a lot of energy to her scenes.

Kilmer isn’t given as much to do, but he’s great at playing the tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold Black frequently explores, having a lot of fun playing against type. In some ways it feels like a trial run for The Nice Guys, which brings more depth to its characters and produces even more laugh-out-loud moments, but this feels slightly fresher overall, packed with the exuberance of a first time director allowed to explore his full vision for the first time.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s highly self-referential tone sometimes makes it a little too clever for its own good without always feeling fully rounded, but Black’s playful homage to classic detective stories delights in subverting expectations to produce a twisty, madcap and entertaining mystery comedy that always keeps you guessing.

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