This weekend I’ll be going to the theater. My expectations are high for The Nice Guys, the story of a mismatched pair of private eyes (played by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) investigating an apparent suicide in 1970s Los Angeles. The trailers have looked great, funny and sad and exciting. But I was looking forward for The Nice Guys because of the movie’s writer and director, Shane Black.
At the end of the 80s, Black hit a homerun with his first movie, Lethal Weapon. That success led to the writing of some of the biggest action movies Hollywood had to offer. Last Action Hero, The Last Boy Scout, and Lethal Weapon 2. His movies were making a lot of money but Black wasn’t getting any respect. His application to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was rejected. And then, The Long Kiss Goodnight. Black sold the script for an unheard of amount of money. $4 million. But his original script was butchered by director Renny Harland, the movie bombed, and Shane Black basically faded away from Hollywood for the next ten years.
Then came Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Black brought the script to his old colleague, Joel Silver who had produced Lethal Weapon, and the two hatched a plan. If they could keep the budget low enough, the studio would stay out of the way. They hired waning celebrities Robert Downey Jr, and Val Kilmer to star alongside the up and comer Michelle Monaghan and got busy making the best movie of 2005.
The plot of the film is willfully convoluted. A small-time crook gets mistaken for an actor and is assigned to research his role by tagging along with an openly gay private detective. He runs into his childhood crush, witnesses a murder, and finds himself dodging bullets. But the plot is largely beside the point. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is solely concerned with character interaction and development. Shane Black shows a love of the outsider, the screw-up who wishes he could save the day, but Harry (Robert Downey Jr.) can’t even get his film noir-esque narration right. Despite being a criminal, Harry’s intentions are good and he aspires to the heroic ideal. Perry (Val Kilmer) is a primping egotist, but he stands up for the little guy, doing whatever it takes to punish those who abuse women and children. All of the characters are looking for their second chances.
The filmmakers were looking for second chances, too. Robert Downey Jr. needed a career boost after years of public drug issues. Shane Black needed a way back in after a decade in exile. Although Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang wasn’t a huge commercial success, it proved to Hollywood that these guys were capable of working at the top of their game. A couple of years later, Downey was back on top with Iron Man, the cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with that new power that he leveraged to bring his friend and redeemer, Black, to the helm of Iron Man 3.
So if you like the Marvel movies, and if you like The Nice Guys, you’re probably going to love Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.