For his directing debut, Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black fuses Elmore Leonard with Raymond Chandler to create the most mischievous and violently funny thriller of the noughties. Robert Downey Jr is perfectly cast as the anti-hero/narrator caught up in a twisting and twisted LA murder-mystery, while Val Kilmer is on top form as a gay private investigator who doesn't do camp... except when it comes to his ringtone.
Robert Downey Jr
While being chased by the New York police, petty crook Harry Lockhart (Downey) stumbles into an acting audition and before you can say "next big thing", he's rubbing shoulders with the Hollywood glitterati at a party in LA.
Harry has a gift for schmoozing people up the wrong way, not least Gay Perry (Kilmer), a private investigator who's (a) gay and (b) working for the sneaky producer who 'discovered' Harry.
He also bumps into struggling actress Harmony (Monaghan - blink and you'll have missed her in The Bourne Supremacy and Mr & Mrs Smith), whose sister has gone missing in LA. She was also Harry's first love back in school.
To impress the dame, Harry says he is a private detective - a ruse that will only fly with Perry's help. In return, Harry offers to assist on Perry's case... which is when dead bodies start piling up around Harry like unchecked dandruff.
Forget the movie contract, Harry will be lucky to get out of this with his life - and genitals - intact. And the only way he can do it is by adding to the body count...
In terms of style, writer-director Black mirrors the glossy action thrillers he penned in the 80s and 90s: the Lethal Weapons, The Last Boy Scout, and 1996's The Long Kiss Goodnight. But his writing has lost none of its edge during his decade-long lay-off since the latter.
Deliberately convoluted and gleefully malicious, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (a term coined by film critic Pauline Kael for slick, pulpy crowd-pleasers like this) doesn't just wink at the audience, it actually pauses for Harry to point out any dodgy plot devices.
While based on a relatively formulaic dime-store novel by crime writer Brett Halliday, this noir is full of cliche-busting surprises.
But it obeys the rules of the genre which dictate that bullets fly, cars crash and everyone's a wise-ass (as well as being obsessed with the correct use of grammar). And nasty things happen to people, both living and dead. Not since Weekend At Bernie's has a corpse been subjected to such on-screen indignity.
Violent, profane, complex, and containing 'scenes of a sexual nature', this is a laugh-out loud treat for grown-ups. See it before the teenagers get wise.