Lethal weapon opens to the strains of ‘Jingle Bell rock’ , A beautiful scarlet nailed woman in a penthouse apartment snorts railroad lines of something. She blearily wanders to the balcony, looking out at the nightlights of the big city. She then swan dives 20 storeys onto a white Cadillac.
Even without dialogue, it’s a very Shane Black scene. Glamour, intrigue and obviously, Christmas.
The intrigue is what puts him a notch above other blockbuster writers. DescribeLethal Weapon quickly. You’d sell it way too short. Yes, it’s an odd couple buddy cop movie but it’s so much more than that. It can’t be boiled down to ‘One cop is x, one is y” Which countless failed films have missed. You can’t throw a Russian Cop and an American cop or a Gruff cop and a Fresh faced cop and leave it at that. That’s why you know Riggs and Murtaugh. Can you give me the character names of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys off the top of your head? I’d be surprised.
This is a bit different from the “Let me introduce you to….” Spotlights in that everybody knows Shane Black. Which was true even before he became a director and that’s a rarity. There’s only a handful of screenwriters that are ‘chat show’ famous. William Goldman? Maybe Joe Ezterhaus? (and he’s more infamous than famous)
I think that’s because he’s got such a distinctive style. If someone says “ There’s a new Shane Black movie out” nobody asks “What’s it about?” You know what it’s about- a down on his luck guy with possible mental issues is drawn into a conspiracy featuring scary killers, snappy dialogue and sexy people. And you know it will be more fun than a waterpark full of otters.
Black has said himself that books were his greatest influence, in particular detective stories like those of Ross MacDonald or Mickey Spillane. As a kid he read “ literally hundreds” of them. He’s expressed surprise at “How many screenwriters or aspiring screenwriters you speak to, if you ask them ‘what are you reading? They answer ‘I don’t read, I watch movies’ I think that’s virtually an impossibility”
I’d suggest there are too many screenwiters who ignore this. Even Tarantino, who’s hugely a cinephile is also a bibliophile who’ll talk the ears off anyone about Elmore Leonard or Eddie Bunker. For a counter point of someone who quite possibly has never read a book without pictures I give you Rob Zombie. Films where there is literally no part you haven’t seen before.
It’s definitely what makes Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang work. There’s a film that was a ‘cult classic’ on release. In that about 6 people watched it when it came out but everyone who did would then buttonhole people with “ Have you seen this? It’s great”
Interestingly, Black had to fight to get Robert Downey jr for that. He was the washed up guy who’d just got out of rehab. Which, jesus, that is Harry’s character.
When KKBB tanked on release, Black hit the booze and drugs hard, losing a couple of years in the process. He didn’t clean up (or write) until 2008. He then didn’t get anything produced for a while until in 2010 Downey Jr called him and said “ I want you to write and direct an Iron Man movie”
Man, that scene is pure Shane Black. The heavies could have dropped straight out The Last Boy scout and “Honestly, I hate working here, they are so weird” is the second funniest line in the MCU. ( After “Puny God” , obviously)
It’s nice that Black is back. The Nice Guys is amazing, it shouldn’t have taken over a decade for it to get made. I even have hopes for a Predator movie given he’s writing it. Which if the news had been “Studio is doing another Predator movie with (insert jouneyman director here) would have been severely underwhelming.
I’ll end with some personal favourite lines….
“ You ever meet anyone you didn’t kill?!”
“ I haven’t killed you yet”
“ Last night I fvcked your wife”
“ Oh, you did huh?How’d you know it was my wife?”
“ She said her husband was a big pimp lookin’ motherfvcker with a hat”
“I’m always frank and earnest with women. In New York I’m Frank, in Chicago I’m Earnest”
“Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?”
and an absolute classic scene. I’m not sure Bruce Willis was ever cooler than this.
Thanks for reading, I’m off to watch The Long Kiss Goodnight again.