This neo-noir film provides a satirical take on the classic hardboiled private eye flick.
The city is L.A., of course. Harry Lockhart (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) is a two-bit thief who escapes police capture by ducking into an audition, where he blunders into impressing the producers with outbursts that they mistake for Method Acting. Harry is then assigned Perry von Shrike (Val Kilmer, as a character with the strangest of names), a real private eye tasked with giving Harry on-the-job training.
The antagonist of this tale is Harlan Dexter, a retired actor (played by Corbin Bernsen) who’s reached an accord in a long-running feud with his daughter Veronica over his wife’s inheritance.
What follows are a series of bizarre Hollywood parties (a possibly redundant phrase) where, among things, Harry crosses paths with various women, including his old high school crush, a woman with the unlikely name of Harmony Lane (played by Michelle Monaghan).
Harry also gets abducted, loses a finger, and other horrible events that are all too cartoonish to be taken seriously.
And with tongue firmly in cheek, the story rambles through its paces, posing the ever-present question, “Is Perry von Shrike actually gay?”
The film is a self-consciously clever meta-noir, so to speak. It weaves in such hardboiled themes and tropes as incestuous relatives, maniacal killers, and mistaken identity, even as it sends up the genre.
The ending ties the various plotlines together nicely, and even though Harry doesn’t get the part, he does get the job.
Clever, funny and hardboiled! What a combination! Well worth two thumbs up!