Déjà Viewing: After ‘Iron Man 3,’ Go Black in Time with ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’

Brent SImon
Movie Talk

When Jon Favreau decided to step down as director after the first two "Iron Man" films (he still reprises his role as Tony Stark's friend and one-time bodyguard, Happy Hogan), there was much handwringing amongst fans about what it meant for the future of the franchise. When writer-director Shane Black was signed on for "Iron Man 3," some expressed skepticism.

Black's only other directorial experience, after all, was 2005's "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," a snappy, noir-ish crime comedy starring Val Kilmer, a fresh Michelle Monaghan and… Iron Man himself, Robert Downey, Jr. That experience no doubt helped him seal the "Iron Man 3" gig, but the $15-million-budgeted "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" - at the time barely more than a belated professional thank you from producer Joel Silver and distributor Warner Bros. for Black's screenwriting work on the hugely profitable "Lethal Weapon" series - is more than just a quaint little curio.

Underappreciated at the time (it grossed just over $4 million domestically, never expanding beyond 235 theaters), "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" takes hardboiled detective genre clichés and puts a tongue-in-cheek spin on them. Partly based on a novel, "Bodies Are Where You Find Them," by Brett Halliday, the movie's story centers on a small-time hood, Harry Lockhart (Downey), who stumbles into an acting audition while fleeing the scene of a robbery from cops, and impresses producers with an outburst they mistake for method acting. Attending a Hollywood party prior to a screen test, Harry is paired with Perry van Shrike (Kilmer), a private investigator who moonlights as a consultant on films. The pair both witness and are noticed seeing a body being dumped into a lake, and when Harry crosses paths with an old high school crush, Harmony Lane (Monaghan), who believes he's a real detective and needs his help getting to the bottom of her sister's possible murder, dizzying complications ensue.

If one of the grander surprises of "Iron Man 3" is how well its action sequences play out, the seeds for such success lie in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," in which Black showcases on a much smaller scale a sense of spatial recognition that would serve him well in the future.

A quirky relationship comedy wrapped up in gunplay, "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" would also prove an important film for all of its leads, reminding viewers of what they'd found so charming about Kilmer, and serving as a breakout role for Monaghan. For Downey, meanwhile, it would predate unprecedented career heights. Always admired by colleagues and critics for his quicksilver talents, "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" would highlight his off-screen stability (his new wife, Susan Levin, would serve as a producer on the project), and help function as a launching pad for his acclaimed work in "Zodiac," "Tropic Thunder" and of course the first "Iron Man."

While not tricked out with supplemental features, its DVD and Blu-ray release does include a gag reel and a wild feature-length audio commentary track with Black, Downey and Kilmer. The good news is that "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" easily has enough re-play value to merit multiple viewings, meaning one can watch it first for the wild ride itself, and then laugh along with the shared anecdotes about CGI pubic hair.