Robert Downey Jr. and his Iron Man 3 director, Shane Black, may be flying high with their record-breaking superhero threequel. But it wasn’t so long ago that both men’s careers were in the proverbial Dumpster. When Black cast the star in his directorial debut, 2005’s R-rated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Downey was as famous for his history of addiction as he was for his talent, while Black, who’d written Lethal Weapon, had been all but forgotten after penning 1996’s tepidly received The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Though Kiss Kiss Bang Bang fizzled at the box office, this idiosyncratic gem of a detective yarn reminded the industry of both guys’ talents. Downey plays a motormouthed thief named Harry Lockhart, who stumbles into an acting audition while on the run from the cops in New York and is transported to Los Angeles for a screen test. Val Kilmer is ”Gay” Perry, a — yes — homosexual private eye who is hired by a movie producer to give Lockhart some useful-for-his-craft ”detective lessons.” Together, the duo become embroiled in a pair of murder cases and engage in the kind of whip-smart, buddy-cop-style badinage that reminds us how Black got his start. The shaggy-dog tale is far from perfect. For one thing, Michelle Monaghan is a decade too young to play Lockhart’s love interest, given they’re supposed to be the same age. But there is a beguiling zest to the way the actors attack Black’s knowing, literate script. Meanwhile, Lockhart’s transformation from no-good wiseass into, uh, heroic wiseass nicely portends both Downey’s subsequent rocketlike professional rise and the metal-suited character that has fueled it. (Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and Netflix) B+