Before Iron Man 3 (you may have heard of it?) Director Shane Black and Robert Downey Jnr collaborated on a movie that now looks like the very point of revival for both, not just for everyone’s(?) favourite Avenger.
Compare the before and after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and it’s plain to see that Downey soon became reliable again, with further mainstream roles coming his way (the brilliant Zodiac) before the big time of 2008’s Iron Man. Not that long before he was still uninsurable after years of well documented troubles.
Black had been off the radar too, seven years since a writing part in Lethal Weapon 4 after a self-withdrawal from the pressures and loathing of the commercial machine his stories had become part of. It would seem he has found comfort since or he must hate how Iron Man 3 is doing right now?
Black and Downey are a stellar team for sure, both publicly complimentary and attributing each other for their revivals. Black gave Downey his fresh break and now Downey seems to have had a hand doing likewise.
It’s funny when watching Kiss Kiss, how the comparisons with Iron Man 3 are now astounding; A Christmas time setting, pin sharp dialogue and humour and most curiously the Iron Man-esque – Protocop.
Kiss Kiss is arguably his cleverest work drawing on Brett Halliday’s noir novel, a shrewd murder mystery that sees Downey’s phoney actor Harry Lockhart joining forces with Val Kilmer’s private dick Gay Perry to solve the intricate murder case of a friend of Harry’s childhood sweetheart Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), a small town girl drawn to the bright lights and dreams of tinsel town.
Black’s effective and hilarious dialogue becomes key in that much of the saggy, frantic passages where it all gets a little wayward and confusing is held up by put downs and buddy play, keeping everything freshly on point.
Downey’s and Kilmer’s central partnership is poetry in scathing motion. An odd couple, caustic and sarcastic to one another, delivering what amounts to the finest of volleying in haphazard and outrageous situational comedy as bodies pile up, reappear and are amateurishly disposed of. Respect the dead? Not here.
Whereas the leading men’s play is indifferent banter, Downey’s time with the sassy Monaghan is pure chemistry, a brash ego equal to Downey, uncomfortably forward for him, making for some sweet and sexy protective interplay from Downey as he questions her Hollywood lifestyle?
As does Black’s satirical commentary on LA, his directorial debut seems as much a personal statement in its lampooning of the LA fame machine as it is a fine example of his whip-snapping prose practiced in countless action vehicles that provided the blueprint for the verbal jousting of late 80’s and 90’s action.
Black’s screenplay is astute too in dovetailing episodes of violence next to hilarity; the removal of fingers followed swiftly by a retort and Kilmer’s neatly concealed crotch gun dispensing with another henchman. As recently seen in Iron Man 3, his fumbling goons intimidate with a banterers wit while carrying out torturous events.
Rather than serve to glamorise violence, these paralleling tonal changes dispense with the otherwise unpalatable while darkly ridiculing to keep a sense of fun and cool.
Even Downey’s narration which could really have become vexing is cleverly worked in so as not to break the tabooed fourth wall, his self-referencing Meta fiction is a clever and refreshing take on an overused cinema mainstay.
Black too shows notable prowess with the camera as well as the pen, with gritty capture and effective action but his screenplay and a respect and clear knowledge of noir classics is where Kiss Kiss’ succeeds the most.
The first collaboration of Hollywood’s renaissance men is a hilarious and cool LA noir satire that intriguingly parallels fiction with their own pursuit of the American dream.
For Black and Downey, the billion plus dollars taken by Marvel’s man in a can represents the sweetest of dream returns. Who’d of thought it!?