Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

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Late film critic Pauline Kael once saw an Italian movie poster that translated to, literally, “kiss kiss bang bang.” Those four words, she said, are the briefest, most succinct way to summarize the appeal of movies. Chicks and guns.

She couldn’t have been more correct. Screenwriter Shane Black, who penned Lethal Weapon when fresh out of film school, would be nowhere without them. But Black also has a knack for incorporating laughs into his action movies. With his latest endeavor, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the humor overshadows the chicks and guns, making it more akin to a screwball buddy comedy than an action flick.

Part film noir murder mystery and part send-up of film noir murder mysteries, this marks Black’s first attempt at directing. He succeeds in making a rather droll and fairly entertaining film, albeit one that involves a plot so complex you almost need a PowerPoint presentation to make sense of it.

The caper involves Harry (Robert Downey Jr.), a petty thief, who, while on the lam, makes a wrong turn into a casting call and finds himself on the brink of landing a major role as a private investigator. He gets sent to Los Angeles for the screen test and is paired up with an acting coach, a real P.I. played by Val Kilmer and named Gay Perry. Gay ... Paris. Get it? Knee-slappers and yuk-yuks are all over this script.

Perry and Harry eventually get tangled up with a couple of women who lead them to a caper that culminates in the predictable big-blowout, shoot-’em-up, car-chase finale.

A clichéd climax, but Black knows it, and pokes fun at his own employment of action film stereotypes, with narrator Harry taking jabs at the genre as he tells the story. It’s playful mockery, and it’s quite obvious that Black loves his genre. He even punctuates the movie with random chapter titles lifted from Raymond Chandler.

Downey, who’s had his highs and lows as an actor and otherwise, is on his best behavior here, holding together the patchwork script with his narration. Paired with the straight-faced Kilmer, the duo’s snappy repartee distracts from the head-spinning complexity of the plot.

Kael commented that audiences eventually fall into despair when we realize that most movies don’t transcend the “kiss kiss bang bang” level. Black’s movie does nothing to challenge the esteemed critic’s observation. Kilmer and Downey are not making high art here, but, hey, at least they’re good for a few chuckles.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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