Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Written and directed by Shane Black

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan


Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Let's be frank: There is some music that appeals only to other musicians, some poetry that only poets respond to; there is some art that's too hermetic or self-referential for the general public. And there are some films that you have to be in the movie business to appreciate. Here I raise my hand; I'm in the movie business and I had a wonderful time at "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." That doesn't mean I think you'll have a good time at "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." You're more likely to be alternately offended and bored; just as "Pulp Fiction," eleven years ago, divided the world into those who loved it and those who hated it, this film is likely - no, it insists on - forcing you to decide one way or the other.

It's the story, if that's not too simplistic a word, of what happens to New York thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), who while escaping from the cops stumbles into a casting session for a crime film and ends up in Los Angeles waiting for his screen test, where he's thrown into the shark tank of L.A. showbiz life and told to apprentice himself to a private eye named Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), to feel more authentic about his role. Why is Gay Perry called Gay? Well, duh, he's gay. And will that have an unexpected payoff about 80 minutes into the film? Of course. But no need to wait; there are gags and payoffs about every two minutes here, including homages to, of course, "Pulp Fiction" and "Run Lola Run," with the Franka Potente role being played here by the former ingenue Shannyn Sossamon.

But there's more, as you might expect. Harry is not only our lead but our narrator, and the film begins as he tells us about his childhood magic act, featuring the sawing of a little girl in half; she destroys the act by screaming as the chain saw hits her, but when they open the box she is of course whole and announces that she will be an actress when she grows up. Which she does, growing up into Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), who is now working Hollywood parties and remeets Harry.

No sooner have they reconnected than they are both tossed into a couple of possibly related criminal cases, too complex to describe here, or anywhere for that matter, but all built around a noir vision of a Raymond Chandler mystery. And with the exception of a misplaced backstory involving incest, we can sit back and enjoy a very speedy ride indeed with Harmony, Harry and Perry for the next hour and a half. Let me just say that murders abound, there are shocks galore, including a marvelous sight gag involving a dog and someone's fingertip, and a couple of parties the like of which I don't believe they've even seen in L.A.

"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is not a film for everyone; you're as likely to be revolted as not. I was not; I thought it was hilarious, though not by any means in the class of "Pulp Fiction." But let me remind you that there's a huge optical illusion in "Pulp Fiction" that most people miss: A character who dies in the middle of the film is alive at the end. And if you accepted that, then I know you'll have a good time at "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang."