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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

#78 - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black, 2005

A two-bit crook is mistaken for an actor and transferred to Hollywood, where he is forced to work a case with a detective as research for his role.

Considering how previous Shane Black scripts have ended up in the hands of action-movie journeymen like Tony Scott and Renny Harlin, it's perhaps understandable that the notorious screenwriter's directorial debut would scale things back a bit and focus more on the neo-noir and buddy comedy elements common to Black scripts more so than the action of the final product. However, even under Black's direction the end result does not feel especially comedic despite the clear efforts by cast and crew alike to invoke such a tone. Robert Downey Jr. does a likably manic performance as the ne'er-do-well who serves as our protagonist, but his fourth-wall-breaking narration does not feel especially clever or earned in this context. He makes up one half of a typical Black odd-couple with Val Kilmer's brusquely professional detective making up the other half. I like Kilmer for the most part, but despite this role being considered one of his best I struggle to enjoy what should be a winning combination of mostly-no-nonsense deadpan and frequent barbs at Downey Jr.'s incompetence. With the odd-couple dynamic in serious jeopardy here, it's definitely up to the neo-noir elements to carry the weight here.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang may have many hallmarks of a great genre comedy and should theoretically be a film I enjoy, but I just can't seem to get into it. Black's writing has provided a good backbone for action movies in the past, but stripping away the pyrotechnics does reveal how hollow his formula can be even as he goes for noir-ish parody instead of straight action. The film's attempts at comedy, which cover everything from snappy interplay between the leads to snide mockery of the entertainment industry, tend to come across as mildly clever more so than genuinely hilarious. At this point, Black invoking his usual trademarks like bickering hitmen or Christmas decorations feel less like charming quirks and more like uninspired quota-filling. They are rendered even less palatable by the film's wildly inconsistent mixture of comedy and drama, especially since the main mystery never quite feels strong enough to make up for the rest of the film's weakness. Still, at least I have to give the film some credit for invoking some grimy yet colourful cinematography that manages to adapt classic film noir's visual sensibilities to the gaudiness of 21st-century Los Angeles. I'd like to think that a third chance will change my mind, but that doesn't strike me as particularly likely.