Well well, never thought I’d actually like Shane Black’s directorial debut this much. His previous scripts (Lethal Weapon *, Long Kiss Goodbye) have been okay, but clearly nothing to really uplift them from the roiling masses of thrillers. The oddly positive review in Empire piqued my interest – and the mixed reviews elsewhere proved that this is indeed a difficult movie to review consistently.
And quite a film it is, indeed. A somewhat black comedy/thriller/buddy movie story set in the glitz of Hollywood, with enough twists and turns to lose a good chunk of the audience well before the credits actually roll in. Robert Downey aboslutely shines as Harry Lockhart – a well-meaning dropout from the school of hard knocks. He tells the story on multiple levels – occasionally dropping into straight conversation with the audience. Character-wise, he’s nothing short of perfection – a scruffy paragon of persistence and bad luck, who just happens to chronically visit wrong places at exactly wrong times. Val Kilmer puts in a good performance as “Gay” Perry van Shrike, an indifferent, but curiously effective private detective. The interplay between the two leads works wonders, and if there was an academy award for dialogue, some of the passages would be certain nominees.
It’s not all perfection. The story hovers on the edge of a stall a couple of times, and the plot does have some gaping holes. But those are quickly forgotten in the rapid-fire delivery of quality entertainment. Black’s quite well-known penchant for sadism puts in an appearance as well a couple of times. But in the surreal ambience of Tinseltown, even torture just seems to fit into the overall flow of things.
But it’s very good. So very good, that it’s worth the third full five star treatment this year. Pacing is good, the characters likeable, dialogue as snappy as you can get this side of Whedon, and the story itself a rollercoaster of well-executed plot devices. Add to that black humor that had the theater laughing in spades (I was actually worried that the guy sitting next to me would fall off his chair), and the courtesy of not stretching the movie beyond two hours, and you have a very competent package of storytelling.
Despite encouragement from the characters, there is no additional footage during/after the credits.