It might be popular now to pooh-pooh screenwriter/director Shane Black, but back in the day, he was Hollywood's hottest commodity—and with good reason. His script for Lethal Weapon broke open the buddy cop genre with snappy dialogue ladled on top of dark underpinnings; a style that became the gold standard for screenwriting over the next few years. A few fizzles later (The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and the underrated The Long Kiss Goodnight top the fizzle list), Black's back—with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a violent and funny tip o' the hat to the pulp fiction genre.

The always-reliable Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry Lockhart, a small-time thief who bumbles into an acting gig in Los Angeles, where he's encouraged to shadow a gay private eye (Val Kilmer) to research his upcoming role. Before you can say "I thought no one in Hollywood would hire Downey because of his former drug problems," Lockhart runs into a former childhood sweetheart (a perky Michelle Monaghan) and finds himself embroiled in not one, but two very real murder mysteries. Complications naturally ensue, which include a dead body in Lockhart's shower, a couple of smartass hit men, and his finger being accidentally amputated—twice (a feat most screenwriters would find nearly impossible to pull off).

The script is classic Shane Black: a lightning quick homage to those Mike Hammer-esque dime store novels, complete with all the inherent homophobia, misogyny, and grotesque violence—a combination that's not always a problem, as long as it's handled correctly. Unfortunately, the one talent Black lacks is subtlety. His writing is perhaps more clever and precocious than ever, and the acting by all involved—especially Downey—is spot on. But there's not an ounce of heart underneath, and the film has the overriding feel of watching a very funny meth addict tweak out. The jokes whiz by with the speed of an Arrested Development episode, which would be fine if the more important points of plot weren't whizzing by at the same velocity. Shane Black knows how to build a fun ride, there's no doubt. But even the best rollercoaster needs to vary its pacing—lest it gives its riders a headache.