Black, known as an action/comedy writer (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) has a flair for directing this material and provides a "tweaking energy" for Downey and Val Kilmer (Alexander, Wonderland).
His first foray behind the camera is a witty, convoluted romp in the private eye genre. The narration by Downey's Harry Lockhart has a post-modern feel to it. He's a petty thief who happens to walk into a movie audition and ends up going with Kilmer's tough-guy investigator Perry van Shrike to prepare for a screen test.
The script, also by Black, has Harry running into an old friend, Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan of Bourne Supremacy), a small-town girl from Indiana whom he really liked. And, posing as a detective for Perry, Harry will be involved with two homicide cases, and the mayhem will incrementally mount.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is self-conscious and cute in a way that has the filmmakers concocting a big in-joke. Yet, even for all of the expository stuff and nifty animated headings, the viewer is allowed to join in on the fun. There are important red herrings and the meanest character is homosexual, so Black enjoys working off of expectations and convention.
The style of this noir set in modern L.A., "a tarnished promised land", feels like it could have been drawn from esteemed writers of hard-boiled fiction like James Ellroy or Raymond Chandler. One can find much to admire in the banter between the chaotic charm of Downey, Jr. and the swagger of Kilmer, showing some of his best comedic timing since Top Secret! and Real Genius. The actor relishes the sexual ambivalence of his character that comes from his nickname.
This action-comedy almost appears to be a send-up as Black uses some of the day-to-day happenings in the motion-picture industry while some pretty bad things happen to the primary characters. Monaghan isn't lost in all of the wild goings-on, playing a bright, beguiling woman a number of years older than she actually is. The aspiring actress that Harmony is needing Harry's help is a meaty role inspired by her love of fictious private eye Jonny Gossamer and the perplexing suicide of her sister.
Composer John Ottoman nicely modulates the tension and humor with his jazzy score and the lensing by Michael Barrett skillfully blends light and shadows for the desired tone to fit the moment of a Yuletide setting. In this contemporary jibing with plenty of gunfire and car smash-ups, some may see this as a smug hybrid of Get Shorty and Pulp Fiction. But, with the cockeyed imbalance of Downey showing some of gregarious innocence of The Singing Detective and a less stoic Kilmer, a new age replacement for Jonny Gossamer, Kiss Kiss bangs out entertainment while not taking itself too seriously.