Welcome Back, Shane Black

“It’s like someone lifted America by the entire east coast and shook it, and the normal people managed to hang on.” – Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) on Los Angeles

For a brief time Shane Black was the hottest screenwriter in Hollywood. Following the success of LETHAL WEAPON, Black scored a record salary for THE LAST BOY SCOUT, breaking that record when he sold THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. LETHAL WEAPON (along with DIE HARD) set the template for the action picture for years to come. With smart dialogue and memorable characters, LETHAL WEAPON still stands as a superior film of its type.

His two follow-ups haven’t aged as well, but there’s still plenty of good screenwriting to savor. After LONG KISS (which was severely tampered with by the studio and director Renny Harlin) Black had a falling out with Hollywood and became disillusioned with the whole process of filmmaking.
Protecting his latest creation, KISS KISS, BANG BANG is also directed (quite well) by Mr. Black. This is Black’s 2nd best script behind LETHAL WEAPON. And it’s his most fun. Like a great George Carlin riff, Black has an intricate knowledge of words. (Many of his characters engage in arguments over their correct usage.) Hearing Shane Black’s dialogue again, and hearing that he’s lost none of his immense talent, was a big warm blanket for my cinematic soul.

The great dialogue is wrapped around scenes, which endlessly surprise and delight. Notice I wrote “scenes” and not “a movie”. Every scene starts one way and then makes at least one major tone shift before it’s done. There are lots of huge laughs, but it would be a disservice to just call the film a comedy. The plot was a little hard to follow at times, but everything is perfectly clear by the end.
Robert Downey Jr. has been in some great movies, and he’s given some great performances, but I don’t think he’s even been given a proper showcase for his sheer movie-star charisma until now. Like Nichols Cage in THE ROCK, all of Downey’s usual ticks are on full display, but they’ve never been put such a likable effect. This film reminded me why you want a guy with his past to straighten up and fly right. He’s too good a talent.

His back-and-forth chemistry with Val Kilmer is so strong, I’m really hoping for a sequel. Kilmer’s career has hit some hard times since HEAT. Like with Black and Downey, this movie is an excellent comeback vehicle.

Sorry if I rushed through Kilmer, but I couldn’t wait anymore to talk about Michelle Monaghan. Actresses dream of breakthrough roles like this. Most of time, writers will just make their female lead tough and smart. It’s the two things people want to see in a movie female, tough and smart. Well, this isn’t simply the tough, smart chick. Monaghan nails an entire career of emotional beats. It’s taken Rachel McAdams years to achieve what Monaghan does in this one performance.
But my mind keeps coming back to the script (without which these actors wouldn’t have so much great stuff to do.) And no, it’s not perfect. When you swing for the fences on every pitch, occasionally you will make a spectacular miss. There are a lot of gay jokes. I found them to be respectful and good-natured, but I’m not sure how the community at large will feel. There’s also a story thread dealing with child molestation. You could argue its purpose in a Hollywood action picture, and I was a little thrown when it was introduced right at the start. But Black, both as a writer and director, never cheapens the issue and is skilled enough to keep it from upending the already tricky tone. With KISS KISS, BANG BANG Shane Black juggles a lot of balls, and it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.


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