Before he was Tony Stark in Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes in... well, Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey, Jr., was Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). After a long career of respected work that didn't quite set the box office on fire, Downey proved himself as an A-list superstar in Iron Man (kind of like Johnny Depp did in Pirates of the Caribbean). But, especially in hindsight, Downey's work in Kiss Kiss feels like a warning shot. His Harry character is funny and loose, charming as hell, and all but announces, "Hello, motion picture audiences, I have arrived."
As great as Downey is, Kiss Kiss writer/director Shane Black deserves a lot of credit for giving him plenty of good dialog to work with. And a great, twisty plot to untangle. Kiss Kiss is a neo-noir detective story, and Black is obviously a noir expert, embracing some tropes of the genre while destroying some others.
The Kiss Kiss story is set in Los Angeles, and there are a few gags about how tough it is to make it in the movie business. Those gags are especially relevant coming from Black, who knows of which he speaks. After being one of the highest-paid screenwriters of the 1990s (he wrote the Lethal Weapon movies), Black disappeared for a few years. Not only did he make it back to write maybe his best script ever, he got to direct for the first time. And, what do you know, Black's as good a director as he is a writer.
Tribute must also be paid to Val Kilmer--the Iceman himself. He's been in some less-than-stellar stuff lately, but his Kiss Kiss work as "Gay Perry" (and, yes, that's gay as in homosexual) is a reminder that Kilmer is a fantastic actor when given a good character to chew on.
Honorable mention: Spartan
Speaking of Val Kilmer, he had another great role last decade in writer/director David Mamet's Spartan (2004). If you know Mamet, you know he loves the con, so I won't even try to explain the story. It's kind of a kidnapping story, but... no, I'm not going to even try. It's fantastic, though, shot in beautiful anamorphic widescreen. And, since it's Mamet, it's worth watching twice just to make sure you catch all the awesome dialog.
Tomorrow: "No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again."