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Directed and co-written by Shane Black; based on a novel, "Bodies Are Where You Find Them" written by Brett Halliday; and starring Robert Downey Jnr, Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.
A terrific opening credit sequence easily sets up the audacity and chagrin of the film for an appreciative audience. In essence, these are the reasons why you need to see this movie: the razor sharp wit, shockingly fast-paced and hysterical dialogue, pulp-fiction-esquire vibe, its pure cheesiness and the cynicism of a beat up old paperback detective novel.
Got you yet? Alright, maybe an explanation of the seemingly simple plot is warranted. It begins with a ridiculously funny set up resulting in Downey's character being paired up with Kilmer to observe the latter in his job as a private detective. They hook up with a down-on-her luck actress who brings a case for the sleuths. This synopsis constitutes gross misrepresentation on my part as things get remarkably complex. How so? Well, even the lead the character (who also is purposefully pathetic as narrator) takes time out within the movie to remember where he is in telling the story. There are even snippets of dialogue where the characters attempt to fill in the gaps or actually remind themselves of what has happened thus far in the movie.
Downey, Kilmer and Monaghan are all caricatures drawn from popular references of literature, movies and art. All however, are larger than life, exhibit great chemistry and for a movie buff, it is heaven to witness the self referential exercises and hear the narrator shred every narrating convention applicable. Downey's performance is remarkable (neurotic, comic, vulnerable and charming). I have never seen Kilmer in such a well-defined, uproarious piece of work. Monaghan is also integral to the trio and shines exuding a brash, fighting and sexy appeal. She brought back fond memories of early Kathleen Turner and Rene Russo. The fact that her look screams Renee Zellweger, is not a bad thing either.
Black became famous in the 1980s for writing the hit buddy movies: Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. As a first time director, he does well keeping the frenetic pace and allowing the audience to catch up only to get lost time and time again. The style is so disarmingly effective, that at times I shook my head in confusion or found my hands against my mouth, agape in shock. I also think that in creating such a brilliant script that Black may have blacklisted himself in Hollywood for mirroring its supposed fame and glamor and exposing its not too pretty side. His one-liners and connected sub-plots are not typical and Kilmer and Downey make magic with their banter and clinical delivery.
All the ingredients of a pulp-noir novella can be found, even employing a structure of chapter-type headings within the movie. Parallel story lines unfold and given plot assumptions are turned over, always with achingly funny results. Even the clichés are clever e.g. a tough guy predictably crashes through a glass table, or body after body turns up, to haunt the characters.
I strongly recommend the movie, given the talent of Downey and Kilmer. Downey should be honored with a Lead Actor Oscar nomination; while Kilmer deserves a Supporting Actor nod. It thrilled me to see them both in their element, as I was on the verge of disavowing them as marquee/box-office draws. The screenplay should also attract Oscar consideration.
One of the year's best films and one of those rare movies where you'll consistently find something new to laugh at, when viewed each of a dozen times.
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