US, 2005. Rated R. 102 min. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bensen; Music: Scott Hardkiss, John Ottman, Lior Rosner; Cinematography: Michael Barrett; Written by Brett Halliday and Shane Black; Directed by Shane Black.
Shane Black, the writer and director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was the original Hollywood screenwriting fairy tale. At the age of 24, in 1985, he sold his first screenplay for a quarter of a million dollars and in the process invented a certain kind of action film that defined Hollywood in the late 80s and early 90s.
That first film was Lethal Weapon. It transformed Mel Gibson from Mad Max to a true Hollywood leading man, launched a four film franchise, created a new genre by amalgamating several Hollywood genres and formed an integral part of the spec-script boom of the 90s.
Shane Black also broke basic screenwriting conventions. Many times, his descriptions pulled the reader out of the scene with personal comments. Describing a Beverly Hills mansion, he wrote, â€œThe kind of house that Iâ€™ll buy if this movie is a huge hit,â€ in his screenplay for Lethal Weapon. â€œThis is really a great place to have sex.â€ In general, his scripts had humor and the traditionally bland descriptions flowed like those from an actual narrator. Twenty years later, screenwriting gurus still advise their students to stay away from the Shane Black style, though his multi-million dollar life story may tempt them to experiment.
Black also wrote a version of the screenplay for Lethal Weapon 2 that allegedly had the main character, Mel Gibsonâ€™s Riggs, die in the film. The studio was clearly unhappy, as they had planned for many lucrative sequels, and so that script never made it to the screen.
For his second film, The Last Boy Scout, he received more than a million dollars and had sparked an era of high-priced scripts and bidding wars among studios. The films that came out of that process were largely forgettable such as Showgirls and Last Action Hero, and many scripts purchased for millions of dollars still remain unproduced today.
For a while, though, Shane Black was on a roll. By his fourth film, he was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood history, commanding a salary of $4 million for that film. That film was The Long Kiss Goodnight, which cost a lot of money and failed to live up to even the most modest expectations. Shane Black faced a lot of resentment and backlash within the industry over the high price tag of that script combined with its critical and box office failure. At the same time, there was a perceived competition over becoming the â€œhighest paid screenwriter in Hollywoodâ€ with writers such as Joe Eszterhas. Also, his talents as a writer were not very highly regarded among some of his peers since Black had stuck to writing action films for the most part of his career.
All of that, combined with his overwhelming success got to him and for many years he stayed away from screenwriting. In the intervening years, Black gained a reputation as a nice guy, who threw great Halloween parties and inspired many young screenwriters to make it in Hollywood. Nine years after he had sold his last screenplay, his friend James Brooks, the director of As Good as it Gets, suggested that he should get back to writing. Brooks gave Black an office to work in and started talking with him about ideas that Black could pursue.
Initially, Black thought of writing a romantic comedy but Brooks suggested that he stick to something closer to his strengths. So instead, Black wrote a relationship comedy that spun his own old buddy-cop genre by mixing it with hard-boiled action, his own brand of comedy, noir and a leading man who was gay. In Shane Blackâ€™s words, â€œâ€¦ seldom do you have the gay character be the one who, when the chips are down, kicks down the door, kills everybody and saves the day.â€
Thus was born Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The title comes from an old Pauline Kael line where she said that the phrase Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, that she saw on an Italian movie poster, was â€œperhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies.â€
This time, he also chose to direct his own screenplay. In the past, most of his screenplays had been heavily doctored before they hit the screen. His characters were more brooding and the stories occasionally darker than the versions that audiences saw. Although ten years ago Hollywood would have handed Black whatever he asked for, now he was having trouble getting any studio to allow him to direct his project. Finally, Warner Brothers caved in to producer Joel Silverâ€™s persuasion and Black had a small budget to work with on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is Shane Blackâ€™s debut as a director and, considering his 9 year slumber, it is a fresh start as a screenwriter. Says Black about his career, â€œDirecting comes closer than anything Iâ€™ve found yet to providing me with a good reason to get up in the morning that goes beyond just getting some money. Because all the money does is buy the bed. Getting out of it is the problem.”