I’m not often a fan of voice-over narration. Many times, it is a technique used lazily in an attempt to explain things to the audience, using “tell” over “show,” which is generally a storytelling no-no. It is a film like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang which uses the technique to its fullest and actually goes far enough with it to justify its existence in the movies. Now, I’m not suggesting that every film needs to have self-aware, comedic narration like this one does, but using it to benefit the story instead of explaining it is definitely the way to go.

The narrator in this film also happens to be our main character, who is a man named Harry (Robert Downey, Jr.) now in Los Angeles after a theft went wrong and turned into an acting audition — don’t ask how; if you need to know, watch the movie now. He won a part, and is now teamed with a private investigator, Perry (Val Kilmer), in order to improve his acting. What results is a film noir plot which neither of these two characters expected. You don’t expect it either, especially because the tone of the film is never more solemn than semi-serious.

I’d be practicing futility if I even attempted to get into exactly what happens in this film. I would also be doing you a disservice. The less you know going in, the better. Suffice to say that dead bodies, pretty girls, and twists and turns all get involved. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang doesn’t take time to catch you up; if you’re not paying attention, you might get lost. The breakneck pace might make you feel like it’s missing a scene here or there, but wait a while and eventually it’ll all click.

Sometimes there are mistakes in the narration. Sometimes a scene is skipped by our narrator. Harry corrects these later on, often telling us things like “this is terrible narration.” It’s self-aware and really quite funny. In a few scenes, he’ll have a direct impact on what we’re seeing. He tells a couple of extras to move out of the way of the camera, and they do it. Later on, he makes a direct comment on how cliché the whole thing is. Does that excuse the clichés? I’m not sure.

Commenting on clichéd storytelling elements but doing nothing about them only serves to bring them into the spotlight. Drawing attention to a problem and not rectifying it does nothing but make the audience more aware of a film’s problems. Yes, it’s funny in the moment, and making the clichés intentional might count as subverting the genre tropes, but I can’t help but think that it’s a cheap trick used to hide poor storytelling that the filmmakers couldn’t otherwise fix. “If we draw attention to it, people will think it’s intentional and won’t fault us for it.”

Because the tone is so light and because the dialogue is so sharp and funny, I don’t really have a problem with the story clichés. They’re forgiven not because they are mentioned, but because the film around them is so enjoyable that they hardly matter. The director is long-time writer Shane Black, making his directorial debut, and his dialogue here, while not always purposeful, is always enjoyable to listen to.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang reminds me a lot of a Tarantino film, in that the dialogue is interesting even if it has no intention of advancing the plot or characters, and the story itself isn’t exactly unique. But the way that these types of films are told, the small interactions and character moments contained within, and the style with which the film has been created — these all lead to something that feels fresh and is absolutely worth seeing because it separates itself from the rest of the pack.

While it’s a smart film that doesn’t take the time to explain itself to the confused members, and benefits from not being spoiled beforehand, that doesn’t mean that it won’t reward viewers who have already seen it. There’s a wealth of material in this film, and I don’t think many people will be able to absorb all of it in a single go. You’ll want to watch it once for the story, and another time to catch all of the little details that make it even better. Perhaps a third viewing will cement it as a fantastic experience.

Carrying the film is Robert Downey, Jr., whose charisma and charm are on full display. You believe him in the beginning as a petty thief, and he also sells you on him as a wannabe-actor-turned-private-investigator. His narration is hilarious and I would believe some of it was ad-libbed. Val Kilmer turns in what’s perhaps one of his funniest performance, parodying the “gay cop” trope. And Michelle Monaghan shows up as an atypical femme fatale, wearing a female Santa suit instead of the black dress of old.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a very enjoyable experience, and I only think it will get better with further viewings. It has excellent dialogue, interesting characters, enough genre subversions to keep things fresh, and three terrific performances from its main actors. The story twists and turns, and it doesn’t take the time to explain itself to viewers who watch movies passively. While I’m not sold on the convoluted and clichéd nature of some of the story beats, they’re easy to give a pass to because of how good the film surrounding them is.