On the improv skit show "What's My Line," one of the better bits involved Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles doing a riff on old private eye movies. Alternating turns as the genre appropriate piano score played in the background, each would step out of character during the skit to address the audience in a stereotypical, gumshoe-based, voice-over narrator manner.
The reason it worked so well was that the two were so good, funny and obviously enjoyed parodying the scenes, that most everyone in the audience was already familiar with the source material and thus got the joke, and that each such skit was only a few minutes long.
Only some of that also applies to "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," long-absent screenwriter Shane Black's directorial debut. Not an outright spoof like the "Airplane Movies," this is more of a loving bit (if one can say loving when bodies are piling up, etc.) of homage to the genre as filtered through a black comedy.
It's also an effort that too in love with how clever it thinks it is in terms of breaking the fourth wall (meaning directly addressing the viewer) as well as referencing other Hollywood releases. In the film -- that Black (writer of the first two "Lethal Weapon" films) also penned -- Robert Downey, Jr. serves as both our protagonist and wall-breaking narrator.
Considering the homage, the narration didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, except for the snarky insider comments, such as how this film wouldn't end umpteen times like the last "Lord of the Rings" movie. Black also has Downey stop the film in between the frames -- as if controlling our projector -- to make a point. While some might find that clever, creative types were doing that decades ago in the old Looney Tunes cartoons (when it was fresher and funnier).
Like those animated shorts, this one's quite frenetic, with Downey stating at one point "This is exhausting," a point with which I couldn't agree more. The same holds true for all of the black comedy that just didn't strike me as that funny.
I suppose some will see accidentally urinating on a dead body (a new one to me) and then dumping said corpse into a dumpster but barely missing, thus causing a bounce on the rim (an old gag) as amusing or hilarious, but it just didn't work for me. If I want to see that sort of material, I'll go back and get my corpse thrashing fix watching "Weekend at Bernie's."
The same holds true for the underlying plot involving several deaths, an apparent suicide and some villains who aren't happy the real and faux private eyes have become interlopers in their affairs. I realize it's all designed as a mix between that homage and throwaway material on which the gags and inside jokes could be hung, but I still think it could and should have been funnier.
What does work, however, are the performances by the three leads -- Downey, Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan. They obviously recognize the nature of the material and thus have somewhat of an infectiously good time in their parts. That's especially true for Kilmer who plays his gay detective character against type (no "swishy" mannerisms or talk, instead he's the "straight man" in the comedy).
One could accordingly view that, when put into the context of being paired with Downey's more loosey-goosey character, as being a spin on Black's famously mismatched pairing he created with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in those "Lethal Weapon" flicks. Monaghan is refreshing and fetching as the girl next door turned aspiring actress with a wild past, while Downey pretty plays the same sort of character he usually does, but is still fairly entertaining in the role. Corbin Bernsen, Larry Miller and others appear in smaller parts but don't really amount to much.
In the end, the same pretty much holds true for the overall film. While it has its moments as well as those fun performances from the leads, it's far too enamored with its own cleverness and black comedy material, neither of which is as brilliant as the film imagines it is.