NOTE: This Spoiler was sent in by Rich F who says... "Really good movie. I put in an asterisk wherever there was a shot that was in the trailer."
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 have an older boy saw a girl in a box in half. The older boy gets to work with a chainsaw when the girl lets loose with a series of piercing screams, panicking the adults who rush up and open the box. The girl was just pretending to be hurt and smilingly says "I'm going to be an actress." A woman has fooled Harry into thinking she's in danger when she's not. Foreshadowing?
At this point the narrator introduces himself and apologizes, somewhat defensively, for not being very good. "Do you see any other narrators?" The movie repeatedly revisits the idea that the narrator isn't a trustworthy source.
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. 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 young daughter 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 daughter 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 (probably the store owner) 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 Millerish casting agent played by 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 with his gun out. The cop recognizes the casting agent (there's some visual shorthand to indicate that the cop has auditioned for him before and wants to make a good impression), apologizes and leaves. Larry Miller says he's found what he's looking for and starts the paperwork to hire Harry for the part. He has reasons for being so quick about this that come up later.
Meanwhile, back at the party, a woman (Michelle Monaghan) is seen going over the bookshelves in the house until she finds some copies of an old paperback detective series name "Johnny Gossamer". She hugs them tenderly, reads from them for a bit and then passes out on a table. A man comes in, sees her unconscious and starts to poke around in her underthings before Harry walks in. Harry goes into full Samuel L. Jackson Pulp Fiction Voice of God mode and tells the man to turn around and walk away before he takes him outside hurts him. The camera cuts to the lawn outside as the man is beating the bejesus out of Harry (kicking him on the ground. etc). 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 knows her and after some hemming and hawing tells Harry to go to a particular club, which he does. There's a bit of a plot hole here when viewed from later in the movie, but what the heck?
Harry shows up at the club and walks past the doorman (who's in full "Studio 54" mode choosing only the best dressed guests) without being hassled. He encounters a woman named Flicka (Angela Lindvall) has a brief conversation (she tells him she's a stewardess, he tells her he's a PI (important later)) and is dissmissed. This created some tension in me waiting for someone to refer to her as "My Friend Flicka". 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 (this is apparently very sad). Harry asks her how old she is and she says she's 34 (Michelle Monaghan (the actress) would have been 28, but who's counting). They riff on how casting directors would describe various people in the bar (He's a Japanese Edward James Olmos, that kind of thing). Harry starts to walk away, but she calls him back. She says 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). Harmony's not quite as hot friend (can't remember her name) shows up and very hostily tries 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 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 no longer 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. Perry is gay and kind of half heartedly in the closet. He says that he's gotten a commission from a woman named Allison Ames and to stake a place out and record anything that happens. He spins a story about her being a femme fatale before admitting that he's only spoken to her on the phone and she paid with a credit card. Harry and Perry drive down a windy dirt road to a woodsy house and hide behind a woodpile with a video camera . Someone comes out of the house in a ski mask, gets in an old beater car and drives off. Harry and Perry follow them. They seem to lose him and stop by a pond next to a low ridge to get their bearings. As they look around, the beater car comes shooting airborne over the ridge and lands in the pond*. Harry jumps into the water to save the driver as Perry says no one was in the car. Harry persists, and finally Perry dives in the water as Harry flails around (I got the impression that Harry couldn't swim). There are muffled gunshots under the water and then Perry emerges holding a body. It's a woman in a sundress. Harry asks if she's alive and Perry says no, she has a broken neck. Harry points out that Perry also shot her in the head shooting out the trunk lock. They drop her on the sand. Harry notices she has no underwear (plot point). Perry says they need to cover this up like they were never there. Harry helpfully throws Perry's gun in the water. Perry points out that that was a custom ceramic gun given to him by his mother and it's very traceable. He then smacks Harry in the nose with a briefcase*. Two figures in ski masks appear on top of the ridge in ski masks and shout at them before taking off.
Perry takes Harry back to Harry's hotel. Harry is walking away, but he has left his cell phone in Perry's car and it starts ringing. Perry gives it to him and they both listen as Harry answers. It's Harmony. Her younger sister has come to town, stolen her credit cards, maxed them out (she doesn't know where) and committed suicide. She's distraught and wants to talk to Harry since she thinks he's a private detective (Flicka told her). Perry pushes Harry off his car and drives off.
Harry goes up to his room. Harmony shows up almost immediately, badgers Harry into investigating her sister's murder (she doesn't believe it was suicide) and then faints*. She eventually wakes up again and leaves as Harry heads to the john. The bathroom is long and deep with the toilet on the far end, a bathtub to the left of the toilet and a towel closet to the right of the toilet. Harry is relieving himself standing up when something on the left catches his eye. He turns to look without interrupting the stream and winds up covering the corpse from the trunk with pee. Someone's stashed it in his bathroom. He crawls into the towel closet and calls Perry. Perry says that it's a setup and somewhere in the room they must have also hidden a gun. Harry quickly finds it under the bed*. Down in the hotel lobby Harmony is just leaving as the cops arrive. She overhears that they're headed to Harry's room and misdirects them to a different room. Perry shows up and they bundle up the corpse again. They can't figure out how to get it out of the hotel, so they decide to take it up to the roof and toss it into a dumpster in an alley. They miss and the body bounces off the edge of the dumpster*. Harry and Perry rush down to the alley and shove the body into the trunk of the car. Just at that moment the police drive by. Perry grabs Harry and kisses him to make it seem like they're having a liaison*. The police crack some jokes and drive off. Harmony shows up just in time to see the kiss. Harry and Perry ditch the body at a random street side location.
The next day Harry and Perry meet and Perry gives Harry two pieces of bad news: 1) He isn't really up for a role in the film. He's being used to demonstrate the producer's seriousness about recasting the role so that Colin Farell will accept less money. 2) He told Harmony that he isn't a PI and she's pissed. Also, it turns out the body in the car was Dexter's daughter. Harry heads to the airport to fly home.
While he's waiting for his flight he sees Flicka and tries to chat her up, but she's not very interested. Somehow it comes up that Harmony's stage name is Allison Ames (the name of the woman that hired Perry) and he rushes back to Harmony's place. She doesn't want to hear it and slams the door on him, severing a joint and a half of his left ring finger*. She rushes him to the hospital where it's precariously sewn back on and lightly bandaged up. They also drug Harry up really good, so he's pretty stoned. They go to a party to meet Perry. It's a weird fetish thing with naked dancers in full body makeup performing inside display cases. Perry isn't interested and heads off to an unrelated (he thinks) stakeout. Harry wanders off to look at a dancer dressed like a deer, but is jumped by two thugs who beat him up and almost pull his finger off again before telling him to get out of town. Harmony and harry rush off to the hospital to get his finger fixed again. On the way, Harmony notices that the two thugs are headed towards Perry's stakeout and insists on going to warn Perry before getting Harry's finger fixed. Harry passes out in the back seat. Harmony parks the car and jumps out to start shadowing Perry. She's jumped by one of the thugs, but manages to get the better of him and knock him out with a headbutt* . A girl with purple hair shows up and Perry starts following her. She knows he's there and is leading him somewhere. The other thug drives the car around and starts to line up to run Perry over. Harmony shoots the gun she got from the other thug to get Perry's attention, so he manages to get out of the way and shoots at him. The other thug in the car almost hits a hot dog stand, leading the guy in the stand to open fire on the thug in the car, killing him. In the chaos, the girl with purple hair runs around looking for an escape. She finds a car with the door open and the keys still in it. Of course, it's Harmony's car with Harry passed out in the back seat. Harmony returns to where she left the first thug, but he's gone.
Harry wakes up the next day in the back seat of the car in a strange garage in a strange house totally confused. He walks around inside calling out but no one responds. The surviving thug shows up with the girl with purple hair, so Harry hides under a bed. He nears them talking. She's apologizing for the foul up, but says it isn't her fault. The thugs agrees and says a number of ominous things about how he's going to set things up so it's never her fault again, and then shoots her 4 times. The bullets go through the bed to where Harry is hiding, but don't hit him. She falls off the bed and as she's dying mouths the words "Who are you?" to Harry. Harry holds his fingers to her lips as she dies. The thug runs off to get something to wrap the body with. Harry, in a daze, gets out from under the bed. The thug comes back and sees him. The thug starts taunting him until he realizes he's left the gun on the bed. Harry shoots him 6 or 7 times. Harry's finger has come off, so he puts it in some ice and calls Perry. While he's talking to him, a dog come up and grabs the finger. Harry tries to get it back, but the dog swallows it. Harry seems resigned to its loss. He then cleans off the gun, puts the girl's fingerprints on it so the police will think she and the thug killed eachother and leaves (error alert: the actress breathes a couple of times here).
Harmony, Perry and Harry get together to wrap things up, secure in the knowledge that the whole thing was a kidnapping plot gone wrong. Perry jokes that it seems anti-climactic. No one's been tortured yet (heh heh). Harry and Harmony head up to Harry's room. Harmony mentiones that in an attempt to save her sister's sanity, she told her that their father wasn't really their father. She lied that he was a famous Hollywood film star that had visited town on a "Johnny Gossamer" film shoot. She also tells a funny story about how she was discovered. The former lead actor in a childrens robot sci fi series broke into her apartment in full robot regalia and she pushed him off a ledge. The Larry Miller character spotted her on the news report. Harry offers to sleep on the couch, but they both wind up in the bed. Harmony says she has to admit something. The next shot is Harry throwing her out because she confessed to sleeping with his best friend in high school, the one guy he asked her not too. Harry makes sure her fingers are clear before slamming the door. Harmony wanders off when something occurs to her. She calls Harry up and asks if the body in the trunk was wearing any underwear. Harry, still angry, says no. She hangs up. A little later, Perry calls Harry up and says Harmony left a message saying she had it all figured out. Perry wants to know what Harry told her. Harry racks his brain and then mentions the underwear thing. Perry says "Where are women not allowed to wear underwear?" Harry doesn't know. Perry and Harry go to the local insane asylum, where they meet a large woman patient. They ask her to lift her robe. She does. No underwear. Perry puts it together: Dexter had hidden her daughter away in the looney bin and replaced her with a lookalike so that he could get the lawsuit dropped. But the daughter's European boyfriend was coming to visit, so he had to kill her to bring the ruse to a close (the boyfriend would see through the double). Harmony's sister must have been the double, which is why they murdered her and made it look like a suicide. Perry and Harry assume that Harmony also went to the asylum and was grabbed, so now they have to find her.
Harry and Perry head out from the asylum where they meet an orderly who holds them at gunpoint and starts marching them back. Perry gets the gun from him and they start trying to interrogate him. Harry, fantastic magician that he is, decides to take the orderly's revolver and pretend to play russian roulette with him to add force to the interrogation. He thinks he left the bullet out, but he didn't. Scratch one orderly*. As Perry and Harry hide the body, they're surprised by Dexter and two more thugs. They frisk them and then take them to a hospital to torture them (Perry gets his wish!) They also need to cremate Dexter's daughter ASAP to remove evidence of gunshot wounds. Thug #3 hooks up electrodes to Harry's balls and proceeds to start the torture. Perry starts taunting him with homophobic slurs (as a gay man, he probably has a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of them). The thug gets angry and starts yelling at Perry, pounding on the electrode button to emphasize his point. Harry's not having a good time. Finally, Perry mimes grabbing at his balls, but it turns out he has a gun hidden there. The thug is killed by bullets flying out of Perry's crotch. Harry comments on the obvious humor in this. Harmony calls Perry. She's been at home the whole time. She rushes to the hospital. Dexter and company have loaded the body into a van and are about to leave. Harmony grabs the van and drives off, leaving them shouting and shooting behind her. They grab two cars and take off. Harry and Perry grab a third and the chase is on. The back doors of the van are open, so the coffin is in danger of flying out at any time. Harmony crashes the van on an overpass, sending the coffin over the edge. It lands on a sign above the underpass. An arm pops out. Harmony's OK, though. Harry and Perry get out and get into a gunfight with one of the thugs. The thug is shot, but not before shooting a bullet through Perry's chest and into Harry. You can sort of see that the bullet has hit a book in Harry's breast pocket. Harry tries to give Perry mouth to mouth, but he starts coughing up blood. Meanwhile Harmony has jumped off the road and into a median, but not before catching a glancing bullet to the forehead. She's pretty dazed. She calls up Harry on his cell phone and requests a rescue, then passes out. Dexter shows up and tries to run Harry down. He jumps off the overpass and lands on the coffin, hanging onto the arm for support. Harry shoots Dexter (Dexter remarks on what a good shot it is before dying). Harry then falls onto the top of the other car as it comes under the over pass and manages to kill the last two thugs. He then staggers over to Harmony, and pulls out the book in his breast pocket. Harry compliments it on stopping the bullet. Harmony points out that it didn't. The hole goes all the way through. Harry passes out.
Harry wakes up at the hospital. Harmony is in the room with him. Perry rolls in on a wheelchair. The narrator comments about how much he hates studio enforced happy endings. To slam the point home, everybody who died in the movie walks in, smiling and waving. Followed by Elvis and Abraham Lincoln. They all disappear, though (except Perry, Harry and Harmony). Perry explains that Harmony's sister came to town to find her father, whom she thought was Dexter. What she found was Dexter having sex with his daughter's double. Thinking it was incest, she hired Perry to film it (using Harmony's credit cards) and then killed herself since it seemed like both of her fathers where abusers.
Harmony, Harry and Perry head back to Indiana for Harmony's sister's funeral. Perry confronts Harmony's father, who's on oxygen and bedridden and slaps him repeatedly. Her father taunts Perry for taking advantage of someone who's defenseless and Perry smiles. He's made his point.
The last shot is a year later. Harry, much better dressed, is making a video recording of himself telling the whole story. Perry, who employs him now, walks up, encourages the audience to stay through the credits, rips on the key grip a little and shuts the camera off.
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