Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Mighty Talent of Shane Black

You may not know the name Shane Black right off the top of your head, but if you were around in the 80's you saw movies he wrote. The guy was the master of the 80's action film. No, not the testosterone bubble of those Stallone and Schwarzenegger vehicles, but but films that mixed wit and style with their ass kicking.

Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout and, a bit of joy from my childhood, The Monster Squad (with Fred Dekker). Yeah, he was brought in to try to fix The Last Action Hero, too, but that thing was a disaster from concept on out...and the concept wasn't Black's.

Black understood the proper way to construct and action film, how to make the characters people you care about, which, in turn, makes the action stakes that much higher. Black didn't write supermen, he wrote people who had skills, and used them effectively. It's probably why he couldn't really fix The Last Action Hero. There are no real people in that movie.

I always think about Lethal Weapon, where he writes the suicidal side Martin Riggs without backing down from it, yet still makes Riggs playful and fun to watch. Mel Gibson's marvelous performance brings it all to life, but few writers , especially in that genre, could so effectively play both sides of the personality full out.

Of course, I also think that Black didn't create his masterpiece until he'd taken several years away from film, and re-emerged in 2005 as the Writer and Director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This movie is almost the definition of pure entertainment. Robert Downey Jr, before the return to superstardom in Iron Man, but sober and bringing his entire bag of talent to the party. Val Kilmer in a role where his oddness not only doesn't overwhelm the film, but actually adds depth to the proceedings.

Black crafted not only a sly look at Noir conventions, but also a sly look at the "buddy action/comedy" that he, himself laid the foundation for, as a genre. It's endlessly witty, endlessly entertaining, and never, not once, treats the audience like it's stupid. I think everyone should see this film, it's brilliant.

Of course, it was also pretty much a bomb when released. So much so that Black has been unable to put anything in to production since.

Which is why I'm so happy that Black is re-teaming with Robert Downey Jr. to direct Iron Man 3, or at least he's slated to. It'll be nice to see Black tackle a big, tentpole film. He's got the chops for it, and I hope he takes a swing at the script, too.

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