KISS KISS, BANG BANG , written and directed by Shane Black, with Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan. 102 minutes. A Warner Brothers release. Opens Friday (October 21). For venues and times, see Movies, page 102. Rating: NNN
Cannes - Sit next to Robert Downey Jr. and it's hard not to stare into his blue eyes - not because he's a movie star, but because sitting next to him turns you into a narc.
It's cruel and stupid, but I find myself quickly checking his pupils. After years of turning up in public high or contrite or wearing an orange jumpsuit, the man once hailed as the greatest actor of his generation now has to endure suspicion not just from cynical journalists, but from his own co-stars.
"He was, how can I say it kindly, in an altered state when we met once," says Val Kilmer. "It was at an awards show, and he was pretty high. But he remembers every single second of this very brief encounter." Kilmer shakes his head in awe. "He remembers what I was wearing, which is amazing."
This is the read on Downey: even when he's wasted, he can be the sharpest mind in the room, which might be a good reason to get wasted.
"I always loved his acting," Kilmer continues, "but he kind of made me nervous because of his state of mind." He laughs, "I've had a lot of bad things said about me that aren't true, but he's had a lot of bad things said about him that are true."
And so Kilmer, co-star Michelle Monaghan, director Shane Black and über-producer Joel Silver all had to satisfy themselves that Downey could carry the lead role in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang as well as full days of press interviews like this one.
Downey faces the doubts head on. "If I weren't cool I wouldn't be sitting here smiling, wearing a clean shirt," he says. "I've never been the type who was able to fake it well."
Looking out over the Riviera at the super-luxe Hotel du Cap, Downey looks clean and fresh, even under his TV face powder. He's proud of the movie.
"It's good and it works, and Val's a fuckin' scream, and Michelle's a star, and Joel knows how to make a movie that he hasn't made before. He knows how to make an indie-feel movie with a studio."
In the film, Downey plays a deadbeat actor who stumbles into a rising tide of mayhem in Los Angeles. He's aware of the similarities.
"The parallels - being a lovable dummy who falls on his ass a lot but fights like hell and prevails and toughens up and does the right thing - are pretty obvious," he says. "That said, would I steal from a toy store to get my niece a Christmas present? No, I'd get a fucking job."
In the end, says Downey, the "brilliant fuck-up" tag gets tired. "I'm also," he says all in a rush, "a guy who goes to bed early and gets up at 8 am and goes to yoga and gets really uptight and doesn't like seeing things out of order."
KISS KISS, BANG BANG (Shane Black) Rating: NNN
Here's a movie that's too smart, too fast, too slick to be trusted. But it's a lot of fun.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry, a deadbeat actor who keeps screwing up so badly that he winds up in Los Angeles in league with flamboyant Val Kilmer, who here goes by the name Gay Perry. Shane Black, the writer behind Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, indulges a taste for 40s film noir, but cranks it up with 90s irony and some juicy bang-bang. The kiss-kiss, with Michelle Monaghan, isn't so bad either.
Directing for the first time, Black allows himself a whole movie-ful of quotable dialogue, and this hyperactive wit exhausts its charm before the movie's end. Like a good binge, it's exhilarating, but the crash is pretty brutal.