Rental Unit: "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" 

Black, maestro of the trivial, is still keenly aware of his audience. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is a stripped-down version of "Weapon," with the buddy movie/cop drama/modern love story underpinnings intact. Robert Downey Jr. plays a small-time thief who wanders into a casting call while fleeing the cops, only to succeed in verifying the industry rumor that its practitioners, no matter their talent, get where they end up through blind luck. Soon he's following around a real private eye (Val Kilmer) to prepare for a role and going through an endless succession of twists, both interesting and not-so-very.

By the end, after being entertained and appalled by the movie's wit, I found myself wondering about the difference between "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and a classic movie of its type like "The Maltese Falcon" (besides simple intelligence). Both are confectionary. Both thrill and amuse. Why did the former digest like too much chocolate, leaving me feeling sick?

When Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade had to bag a hood, he did it with a measured jab to the chin. To me, there is more than just a difference in times between then and now. There's something unsettling, especially these days, to feel like you're being encouraged to laugh at a man shot through the forehead, even if you do. Of course, the ante will always be raised as we become inured to comedic violence. At the same time, and at the risk of sounding like a prig, maybe sometimes you just get tired of dumbly laughing along. S

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