When petty thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.) inadvertantly lands an audition for a gritty crime drama, the ironic twist of fate moves him to Los Angelas where he's paired with detective Perry (Val Kilmer) as research for the role. But Harry gets in over his head when they witness a bizarre murder connected to a small-time actress named Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) and her estranged sister. As they delve deeper, they find that not everything is as it seems in this dark comedy.
The movie borrows motifs from film noir such as the voice over, provided by Harry, who adds a comic twist by stammering and over-explaining instead of cooly letting the viewer in on each detail. It's also a play on the hard-boiled, but poorly constructed, narratives of pulp novels, which make an appearance in the fictional Johnny Gossamer series Harmony loves. There's no real way of solving the mystery as the crazy coincidences can only be tied up in the end with convenient explanations, courtesy of the savvy investigator Perry. While the movie seems pretty proud for letting itself be bad on purpose, the joke is lost on an audience that has never experienced long-dead pulp literature.
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Downey also seems miscast in a role that should have gone to someone more naive looking (Ben Affleck, maybe). His charm doesn't fit an oblivious thug who functions as a punching bag to be mutilated in humorous ways. Kilmer, on the other hand, suits his character, a gay private eye with an acerbic wit, perfectly. He delivers the best lines, but unfortunately exists primarily as a target for a multitude of jokes making fun of his homosexuality (he's introduced as Gay Perry and has a Gloria Gaynor ringtone). As this adds to a string of flops in which Val Kilmer has already starred (Troy, Wonderland, The Salton Sea, etc.) I think it's safe to officially label him box office poison. All this mess is good for is putting the last nail in the coffin containing a once a promising career.