Dir Shane Black, US. 2005. 103 mins.

A hugely entertaining mix of film noir, comic buddy movie andmetacinematic romp, Kiss KissBang Bang marks the directing debut of one-time wunderkind scripter Shane Black (LethalWeapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight), who has been off the radar for the best partof a decade. From the most stylish opening credits since Catch Me If You Can, through to theclosing voice-over comment "We hope you stay for the credits... and if you wantto know about the Best Boy, he's somebody's nephew", this one hassophisticated, urban and cineliterate written all over it (narrator-hero HarryLockhart even apologises to Mid-Western audiences at one point for all the swearing in the film).

A triumph of savvy tone and ironic attitude, it works best when it is incomic mode - which is most of the time. Without the barrage of smart one-linersand situation gags, the convoluted murder mystery plot would hardly stand up.Luckily, it rarely needs to. It's only very occasionally in the romantic subplot,when the film tries to be smart-ass and sentimental at the same time, that thebalance doesn't quite work. But when in doubt, Black opts for smart-ass: andit's the right decision.

The film is tentatively scheduled for domestic release in the third quarterof this year; it should play strongly on both coasts, and perform well on DVD.Black is an action specialist, and the car chases and shoot-outs aresurprisingly real for what is basically a spoof. Val Kilmer's fine comic turnas a tough, uncliched gay private eye - a career best performance - should alsogenerate strong word of mouth. The only question mark for Warner will be howwell Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's sardonic comedy comes over in non-Anglophonemarkets; witty voice-over films (Fight Club, The Opposite of Sex) can be ruined byinsensitive dubbing or subtitling; or they can simply miss a territory's funnybone.

With more twists and turns than a bowl of schizophrenic spaghetti, theplot centres on washed-up small-time thief Harry Lockhart, played by the versatile Robert DowneyJr as a sympathetic loser in whom bad luck and bad judgement go hand in hand.In the film's hilarious opening scene, Harry breaks into an audition room whileon the run from the cops and suddenly finds his "old school" method acting haswon him a ticket to L.A. for a screen test. Here he meets private eye Perry vanShrike (Val Kilmer), otherwise known as "Gay Perry", who is given the job ofpreparing Harry for his role as a private dick by offering him some real-lifework experience. Soon enough,Harry meets up with his old high school confidante and unrequited love object,Harmony Faith Lane (Syriana's Michelle Monaghan), who is obssessed with pulpcrime hero Jonny Gossamer. The obvious Downey-Monaghan age difference willdistract those who get distracted by these things; others will take it on boardas part of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's nonchalant strut.

Harmony's attempts to unravel the fate of her missing kid sisterintersect with the murder mystery that Perry and Harry are trying to solve. Oneof this year's next big things, Monaghan will also be seen alongside CharlizeTheron and Sissy Spacek in another Warner project, Kiwi director Niki Caro'supcoming sexual harrassment drama, provisionally titled Class Action. On theevidence of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the former TV star can certainly hold down acomic-romantic lead, and the mixture of fatale and spoof in her performancesuggest that she could stray with equal ease into David Lynch or Woody Allenterritory.

The Los Angeles of the film is neither LAPD mean streets territory northe futuristic downtown ofCollateral, but a garish, utterly artificial world whose determination to partyhard has outlived the party. Its original colour pallette is bright and washedout at the same time; DoP Barret desaturated much of the footage in post to getthis brash but raw look. John Ottman's score hits just the right note, coming on like an ironic take on the1970s hip-cat crime genre. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang deals with serious issues aswell: brioken dreams, the inhumanity of the Hollywood star machine, even - in arather superficial way - child abuse. But in the end it's the brilliance of thespoof that carries the day: the quickfire badinage, the sly film references ("Isaw the last Lord of the Rings, I'm not going to have the movie end aboutseventeen times") and the impression that all concerned were enjoyingthemselves immensely.

Written and directed by
Shane Black

Production companies
Warner Bros Pictures presents a Silver Pictures Production

International distribution
Warner Bros

Joel Silver

Michael Barrett

Production design
Aaron Osborne

Jim Page

John Ottman

Main cast
Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan