'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'


For reasons perhaps only known internally, Warner Bros. decided to treat Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" like an obscure indie film, opting for a lengthy platform release that left the movie unable to even make $5 million domestically. As a result, most audiences will get their first introduction to Shane Black's directing debut as a DVD. Finally, folks will get the chance to discover 2005's best comedic thriller, a stylish lark of a movie that comes loaded with plot twists, unexpected violence and nudity.

The difficult-to-summarize plot features Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart, a hapless petty criminal who lucks into a career as a hapless actor and soon finds himself pretending to be a hapless private eye to Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), an aspiring actress whose sister was found dead. Lending his expertise to the case is Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a real-life private eye who masquerades as a technical advisor on Hollywood movies. Where does show biz end and crime begin?

As a writer, Black rejuvenated the buddy-action genre in the '80s with his "Lethal Weapon" script and his gift for witty repartee is all over the scenes between Downey and Kilmer. As the fast-talking chump who wants to do good, but can't help getting into trouble, Downey's the best he's been since "Chaplin," while Kilmer hasn't been this funny since "Real Genius" (unintentional "Island of Dr. Moreau" laughs don't count). The real surprise is Monaghan, who has since achieved additional visibility thanks to "Mission: Impossible III." She trades quips with Downey and Kilmer, but also exhibits the emotional vulnerability necessary to keep "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" from becoming excessively glib.

Playing with the conventions of film noir and Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled crime fiction and with outsider ideas of Hollywood, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" overcomes some rocky third act choices -- a detour into pathos at the end isn't really earned -- and stands out as a formula-tweaking treat.

Just as Warner Bros. had difficulties giving the movie a proper theatrical release, the "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" DVD is short on the breadth of extras one might hope for on a project of this sort. Where are the deleted scenes? Where's the profile of Black, whose career was left for dead in the late '90s and hopefully has been resurrected? The four minute gag reel is funny enough to suggest that a behind-the-scenes featurette might have been entertaining. Perhaps there's a special edition ready to come out if the initial DVD sales are strong?

Fortunately, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" delivers a crackling commentary, as the two stars and the writer-director sit in the booth and discuss everything from the disappointing box office ("We would have been a hit in the Depression," Black notes), Downey's lean physique ("George C. Scott wouldn't care about that," Kilmer quips after Downey admires himself) and the film's unexpected cameos (Richard Grieco and Laurence Fishburne, allegedly). Kilmer also promises $500 to listeners who count the number of celebrity names he drops through the commentary.

STUDIO: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
PRICE: $27.98
TIME: 103 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Gag reel; audio commentary

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