Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart
Val Kilmer as Perry Van Shrike
Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Faith Lane
Corbin Bernsen as Harlan Dexter
Dash Mihok as Mr. Frying Pan
Larry Miller as Dabney Shaw
Rockmond Dunbar as Mr. Fire
Shannyn Sossamon as Pink Hair Girl
Angela Lindvall as Flicka
Indio Falconer Downey as Harry Age 9
Ariel Winter as Harmony Age 7
Duane Carnahan as Chainsaw Kid
Josh Richman as Rickie
Martha Hackett as Pistol Woman
At its core is our protagonist, Harry Lockhart, a thief pretending to be an actor pretending to be a detective. Like the rest of the cast, who we meet at a Hollywood party taking place around a heated swimming pool, Harry is a bit of a phony. He’s not nearly as tough as he makes himself out to be, and he’s not the type of ladies’ man we normally expect in this type of movie. He ignores the fourth wall to tell us how he got there–he was a thief that inadvertently wound up in an audition after taking a wrong turn in a police chase–and about the other guests. To help train him for the role he’s partnered with Perry van Shrike, a tough street detective, who is not too happy to be partnered with a dimwit who keeps asking annoying questions and doing dumb things. Oh, yeah, and Perry is gay. Also at the party is actress Harmony Faith Lanethat’s her stage namewho Harry tries to defend and then tries later to pick her up at a bar before finding out that it’s his childhood friend and high school crush. They rekindle their friendship when Harmony’s sister turns up dead, and Harry decides to not tell her that he’s just pretending to be a detective for an acting role.
This movie is so different from the normal action-comedy that it’s sometimes hard to get your head around the many layers and levels of its complex story, and it rarely sticks to normal film storytelling conventions more than a few minutes. Black’s script is spot-on perfection, not only with its depiction of Hollywood stereotypes, but also how it modernizes the detective noir genre to give the movie a distinctive look and feel. Black does everything he can to break away from the clichés and stereotypes while working in genres that are so easy to stereotype. The verbal humor is punctuated with a series of sight gags and a good dose of physical humor to boot. While some parts do get a bit strange, there’s very little about this movie that is predictable or expected.
There’s little question that onscreen chemistry plays the largest part in why this movie works so well, not only between Downey and Kilmer, a duo every bit as entertaining as Black’s former team-ups, but also between Downey and Monaghan, who create the type of comedic romance that owes more to “Moonlighting” than Mickey Spillane.
Robert Downey is quite likeable as the fall guy and straight man (in more ways than one), and his running narrative is used for comic effect, talking to the audience or stopping the movie to rewind when he forgets to tell us an important part of the story. It makes his character even that much more charming. The biggest laughs come from Val Kilmer, who cuts Downey/Harry down to size when he asks stupid questions, which is most of the time. Perry’s sarcasm switch is permanently stuck on, making him a great movie character ala Tarantino’s Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.” One can expect that Kilmer and Downey’s quick-paced patter will be quoted by fans for years to come. Black also uses Perry’s sexuality to humorous effect without resorting to the obvious gay stereotypes we’ve seen on television and in other Hollywood movies. Make no mistake that Perry is as tough as they come, but it’s still very funny when he kisses Harry full on the lips to throw some nearby cops off their trail.
Still, it’s the ultra-adorable Michelle Monaghan who steals most of the scenes from the two guys with her bubbly enthusiasm, and she even gets quite involved in the movie’s action and physical comedy, rather than just playing the girlfriend or love interest. There’s also something immediately amusing about seeing Corbin Bernsen from “L.A. Law” playing a sleazy has-been actor, even showing a scene from a movie he did when younger and incorporating the bad title of one of his TV movies “Tails You Live, Heads You Die” into the plot.
It’s quite impressive what Black is able to do with a limited budget when compared to the money spent producing his past scripts, and he doesn’t skimp on the action once the film gets going. And yes, there’s even a car chase or two. The whole thing is pulled together by John Ottman’s terrific score, mixing musical styles from Henry Mancini to hip hop to keep up with Black’s infectious case of ADD.
The Bottom Line: