11 December 2005

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I don’t remember when I first fell for Robert Downey, Jr. Maybe it was his star turn in Chaplin (1992); maybe even his appearance in the otherwise forgettable Soapdish (1991) (forgettable, that is, except for the introduction of the knockout Elisabeth Shue). The attraction isn’t about good looks (though his looks are just fine), but presence. He projects irrepressibility: you sense a complicated inner life, and in spite of an often self-deprecating and consciously clumsy manner, there are moments of remarkable physical grace. I realize I am describing his achievement in Chaplin, but I see similar traits in most of his performances.

On the whole, Downey, Jr.'s filmography isn't so impressive, but he typically makes the duds worth seeing. The other night we went to the well-reviewed but poorly hyped Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and had a blast. The movie is a knowing riff on noirish private eye stories, buddy movies (on which writer/director Shane Black is an expert, having created Lethal Weapon), and tangled plotting. Along with Robert Downey, Jr., it stars Val Kilmer, who is also a pleasure to watch.

(I seem to have a soft spot for good actors who make hard-to-understand career choices—sometimes it just takes just one splendid performance (like Kilmer's portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone) to make me a fan forever.)

As Anthony Lane points out, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a movie that could be annoying, with its loopy storytelling and nudge-nudge-wink-wink narration, but we weren't annoyed at all. In fact, we may have winked back.

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