This tribute to old-fashioned hard-boiled detective fiction is laced with Hollywood satire and the snappy, lightning-fast dialogue that helped make writer-turned-director Shane Black's name synonymous with hard-edged '90s action comedies. The tone is set by an early scene in which likable screwup Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is robbing a toy store with his even-less-adept partner. The gig goes wrong, Harry's partner is killed by a pistol-packing civilian and Harry stumbles into a cattle-call audition for a Hollywood cop movie while fleeing the cops — one of whom sheepishly wishes him good luck when he realizes he just burst in on some guy's shot at being in the movies. Next thing Harry knows, he's on a plane to Hollywood for a screen test and preparatory detective lessons from bona fide investigator Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), known as Gay Perry because, well, he's gay. And at a sleazy Hollywood party given by filthy-rich former actor Harlon Dexter (Corbin Bernsen), Harry runs into Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), his childhood dream girl. She's older and harder and her fast-fading dreams of stardom have yielded nothing but a goofy beer commercial, but she's still a knockout. Harry blows his hopes of improving on their old relationship — she was the town good-time girl and he was her best platonic friend — by getting drunk and hitting on her friend. His second chance comes when Harmony's deeply damaged younger sister blows into town and apparently commits suicide; Harmony believes she was murdered and is under the impression that Harry's a detective. So he says he'll look into the matter, and from that point forward, it's all hairpin turns from dark comedy to no-joke violence, peppered with knowing allusions to fictional PI Johnny Gossamer, who turns out to figure prominently in the twisted tale that unfolds. When misanthropic Dennis Potter took on hard-boiled clichés, the result was the excoriating Singing Detective (the 1986 BBC production, not the miscalculated 2003 movie starring, oddly, Downey); in Black's hands, it's a ripping good time. Even the title is a dizzying tangle of smarty-pants allusions, a frat-boy contraction of Jean-Luc Godard's dictum about a girl and a gun being the essence of moviemaking by way of New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who purloined the phrase from an Italian James Bond poster. But Black's romp is laced with bracingly bitter pills — though pulp detective novels put on a comforting gloss, the world's real ugliness can occasionally bleed through the mannered prose and decorative dames.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: This tribute to old-fashioned hard-boiled detective fiction is laced with Hollywood satire and the snappy, lightning-fast dialogue that helped make writer-turned-director Shane Black's name synonymous with hard-edged '90s action comedies. The tone is set b… (more)