- Shane Black
The movie opens in flashback to about 1980 at a fair in Indiana of some sort with pie eating contests, etc. The camera settles on a boy magician named “Harry the Great”, who is about to perform a trick when he saw’s a girl in a box in half with a chainsaw. Midway, the girl lets loose with a series of piercing screams, panicking the audience and some nearby adults who rush up and open the box. The girl was just pretending to be hurt and smiles up at the adult man professing “I’m going to be an actress” before he slaps her.
The movie cuts to a generic Hollywood beautiful person party where we see Harry (Robert Downey Jr.), fully but shabbily clothed, intentionally teetering at the edge of a pool full of bikini clad women. At this point the narrator (Harry) introduces himself and apologizes, somewhat defensively, for not being very good. “Do you see any other narrators?” he asks. (The movie repeatedly revisits the idea that the narrator isn’t a trustworthy source. The symbolism is that the pool represents the Hollywood lifestyle and he’s trying to decide whether to jump in or not). He (as the narrator) asks us if we want to know how he got here.
We now cut to a small toy store late at night. Two thieves are rummaging around. One of them, Harry, is on the phone with his niece as she describes the action figure (“CyberCop”) she wants for Christmas. Harry pretends that the store is open and he’s on a regular shopping expedition, but his niece isn’t buying it (it’s too late at night). A large UPS truck drives by, jostling the wiring on the jury rigged alarm and setting it off. The two run out the back door and into an alley, where they are fired upon by a woman on a fire escape. Harry’s partner is hit, but Harry escapes on foot as the police approach. He runs from alley to alley until he encounters a milling group of men who are all dressed in dark thiefish clothing like himself. He runs up a stairway and crashes into a room with 3 or 4 people sitting around a desk. A woman tells him they’re not ready for him yet, but another man, a Larry Miller-ish casting agent (played by – who else – Larry Miller), tells him to go ahead and hands him a script. It’s from some sort of hard boiled crime thriller in which the main character is being berated for allowing his partner to be killed. Harry stumbles through it for a couple of lines before the similarity to his current situation gets to be too much and he loses it, throwing a chair and putting his head on the lap of one of the casting agents and begging forgiveness. At this moment a cop bursts through the door, before apologising for interrupting and ducking back out. Larry Miller says he’s found what he’s looking for and hires Harry for the part suspiciously quickly – his motives become clear much later…
Meanwhile, back at the party, a woman (Michelle Monaghan) named Harmony is introduced by the narrator, who dips a little into her back story through a few brief flashbacks – noting that she is from a small town, likes reading a crime series about a detective called “Johnny Gossamer”, and alluding to the fact that their father may have sexually abused her sister Jenna. The narrator then realizes that he isn’t explaining how she got to the party, which he then goes into, the reason involving an actor fro ma cancelled tv show about a robot who drunkenly broke int oher house in his costume. Long story short, she gets invited to the party, where she is seen going over the bookshelves in the house until she finds some copies of the same old paperback detective series – “Johnny Gossamer”. She hugs them tenderly, reads from them for a bit and then passes out on a table. A sleazy man enters and, seeing her unconscious – starts to poke around in her underthings before Harry walks in. Harry tries to intervene but ends up being beaten to a pulp – reflecting he never was very good at fighting. After the man walks away, Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) helps Harry up. He tells Harry he’s a high end private detective who’s been hired by the films producers to train Harry in the ways of private detecting. He takes him into the bathroom and helps him clean up. Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bernsen) pokes his head in and introduces his daughter, who is getting ready to cut her birthday cake. She has apparently been in Europe for many years and threatening to sue her father over her deceased mother’s money, but they’ve patched things up and are all nicey-nicey.
Gay Perry is getting ready to leave the party when Harry asks him about the woman. Perry recognises her and recommends Harry go to the Domino bar, which he does.
Harry shows up at the club and walks past the doorman without being hassled. He encounters a woman named Flicka (Angela Lindvall) has a brief conversation (she tells him she’s a stewardess, he lies and tells her he’s a PI (important later).It takes about an hour. The woman from the party is sitting at the bar. Harry sits next to her and launches into conversation. They flirt a little bit with her suggesting Harry take up with the woman across the bar who’s 35 and still attempting to act. Harry asks her how old she is and she says she’s 34. Harry starts to walk away after a little banter, but she calls him back. She can’t believe he doesn’t recognize her. She’s his childhood friend Harmony (the girl being sawed in half at the beginning of the movie by young magician Harry). Harmony’s friend shows up and becomes very hostile – trying to drive Harry off. Harmony calms her down and Harmony and Harry head to a table.
Harmony describes growing up in Indiana parallel to Harry. She was turned onto the Johnny Gossamer books by reading them to her invalid mother. Her father was a child molester who abused her younger sister while she stood helplessly by. She compensated by sleeping with everybody in high school except Harry, who was her best friend and Harry’s best friend because he asked he not to. As soon as she could, she escaped to Hollywood to be a star, but the only work she’s gotten is as a European milkmaid in a cheesy beer commercial with a CGI bear. Harry asks if she wants to come back to his place and, to show he has good intentions, suggests she bring he hostile friend with her.
Harry wakes up the next morning with a girl in his bed. He thinks its Harmony, but is shocked to find out it’s her hostile friend instead. He runs to Harmony’s place and apologizes profusely at her door. She’s initially pissed, but somewhat mollified as he goes.
Perry and Harry are heading out to a stake out. Gay Perry says that he’s gotten a commission from a woman named Allison Ames that he has only spoken to over the phone – to stake a