And indulge it he does — Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a movie-geek oasis of self-aware laughs and clever references. The dialogue is spectacular in its smart-assed intelligence. (This is one of the most quotable films in ages.) Black's script bursts with sharp exchanges and one-liners ranging from pop-culture pisstake lines (a head-to-toe soaked Downey proclaiming himself "wetter than Drew Barrymore at a grunge club") to smirking subversions of hard-boiled posturing (Perry's oddly-timed use of the word 'pluperfect') to sheer non sequitor mania.
The last category provides some of the film's biggest laughs; whether showing us a beer commercial with a surreal-slogan-spouting bear, Perry confusing Harry with a speech about a talking monkey or Harry's narration interrupting itself to tell some extras to move out of the camera's way, Black's willingness to do the unexpected keeps his film fresh and funny. Most films that lean heavily on self-satire wear out the approach quickly, but Black and company avoid that pitfall by defying audience expectations and indulging the unusual, all the while hopping madly from incident to incident like a frog that fell into a bag of cocaine.
A lot of the film's success, too, comes from the actors. Downey's manic flightiness bounces well off Kilmer's cucumber-cool sarcasm; the former also complements the self-deprecation and tart-sweet temperment of Monaghan, making their on-off-on-again quasi-relationship during the film wholly credible. It's the professionalism and talent of the cast (even Corbin Bernsen's good) that keeps the characters feeling like characters instead of the carboard constructs they could easily becomes in a lesser film. Sympathy can be tough to drum up when cynicism and sarcasm rule the roost, and there's many a film that, by failing to have its characters take themselves seriously, fails to make the audience care about them. For all its jokiness, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang does take its characters seriously, and the actors put that across admirably.
This seriousness is an important factor — without it, a number of aspects in the film wouldn't work. If everything in the film were intended as fun 'n' games, for instance, the crucial incest subplot would be fatally distasteful. Furthermore, the film's fundamental faith in its characters as people softens the hyperbolic sadism of a couple scenes (i.e. Harry and the coffin) and defuses the potential for homophobic accusations. On the latter: Gay Perry's not just a name — Kilmer's character is indeed homosexual, and the script gets off a couple cracks about his orientation. This, though, is balanced by Perry being portrayed as the most competent and badass motherfucker in the film, and not above using homophobia to his advantage (the "derringer" scene). It comes down to this: Because Black, at heart, wants me to believe in these guys, and because Downey, Kilmer, Monaghan and the rest want me to believe in these guys, I believe in these guys. They may be walking gag machines, but they work, and thus the film works.