Too often said to be the man behind the modern action/comedy buddy movie, Shane Black rose to fame with his scripts for the "Lethal Weapon" franchise along with mixed one-offs like "The Last Boy Scout", "Last Action Hero" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight". What Black did help pioneer was a screenwriting style that broke convention, effectively blending comedy and action not only into the film's story and characters but the screenplay's prose itself which at the time was considered unconventional.
Now, after nearly a decade away from the job that made him famous, he's back writing and for the first time directing this enjoyably smart tounge-in-cheek riff on the P.I. genre. Its a film chock full of fun performances, witty banter, frequent twists and a complicated mystery all mixed together in a melting pot celebrating the absurdity of its L.A. locale and its various denziens whom we follow. The city never looked so appealing and despite the modern touches, the cinematography and design lend itself to a yesteryear place oozing with romantic intrigue and dastardly deeds.
'Kiss' is not ashamed to make fun of anything, including itself as a movie. At times a little too smart and sassy for its own good, the sarcastic quips run the gamut from the anachronistic to the obscurely modern, but they hit far more than they miss with a lot of help from the three leads who all deliver superb work. Downey's manic and somewhat unbalanced easy going charm clashes well with the tougher restrained camp of Kilmer's macho gay enforcer and Monaghan's take no bullshit innocent girl who learned about life the tough way.
Black's sense of direction is very slick for a first-timer, the man never letting the pace drop whilst his script effortlessly throws in curve balls to complicate matters. The man has an obvious love of the material and know how when it comes to this kind of filmmaking which certainly helps you feel like you're in the hand of both a professional and a 'geek' who knows the material so well he can cleverly deconstruct it.
Yet as its a first film there's a few atypical mistakes ranging from some "could've been shot better" action sequences to the main thrust of the mystery. Indeed the mystery is where this may lose some people. Its a decent little detective yarn that effectively uses its various red herrings and shady characters to maximum advantage. Yet the plot becomes far too convoluted for its own good, especially with these fast talking characters and a lot of supporting players whom we only glimpse yet form key components in the eventual and rather uninteresting solution (albeit one with a tragic coda).
This isn't a film that's focussed on establishing a credible plot though and for that it can be forgiven. In many ways it begs the viewer to simply sit back and enjoy the ride, the plot serving more to set up the deliciously fun little scenes of comedy, violence and banter more than anything else. With such a rich palette, who wants to be bogged down following an ultimately featherweight story when there's fun to be had. This is how Hollywood action comedies should be done - smart, fast and a hoot.