Veteran screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon 3 and 4) makes a commendable directorial debut with this playful faux-thriller, which has fun with the conventions of private-eye novels and film noir. Robert Downey Jr. stars (and narrates) as Harry Lockhart, a New York thief on the run who literally stumbles into a film audition and is "discovered," earning a trip to L.A. for a screen test. Assigned to research his first role, as a detective, he tags along with Hollywood private eye Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), whose sharp tongue and matter-of-fact homosexuality contrasts amusingly with Harry's voluble fish-out-of-water persona. A chance reunion with his high school dream girl, Harmony Faith Lane (Michele Monaghan), soon leads to murder, missing people, and shady dealings that that present us with a dizzying succession of zany characters and narrative complications. Loosely adapted from a whodunit written by the creator of the beloved shamus Michael Shayne, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (the title echoes a Pauline Kael collection of the same name) demands from its viewers a certain level of familiarity with classic detective novels and movies. For example, it's broken up into five "chapters," each of which bears the title of one of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe yarns. The dialogue references countless other examples of the genre and, not surprisingly, seldom seems fully applicable to the scene at hand. No matter. This is the type of movie that's not about the destination but about the journey. Downey and Kilmer, who work well together, obviously understood Black's off-center vision. And their droll performances help enable him to hit the target, dead center.