“Hey man, that girl in your trunk? She was in that car.”
Almost three decades ago, Shane Black all but invented the buddy comedy when he wrote Lethal Weapon and unleashed Riggs and Murtaugh on the world. One of the most famous – and most infamous – action-comedy duos would propel Black into a string of writing jobs where he would hone his craft.
When it finally came time to make the jump to directing, his debut would of course be one of his own scripts – and it was going to be a buddy comedy. In 2005, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang was almost universally adored and with Marvel tapping the man to helm Post-Avengers set Iron Man 3, he is as close to a household name as a cult film screenwriter has ever been.
Not one to rest on his laurels and take it easy, Shane Black is using his new-found status to get some of his own writing on the big screen to be noticed. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Nice Guys.
Los Angeles, 1977. Days after the death of a well known porn star, hapless private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired by the actress’ aunt, convinced that she’s seen her alive, to track her down. When he finds himself on the trail of young activist Amelia (The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley) he also finds himself on the wrong end of paid enforcer Jackson Healy’s (Russell Crowe) uncanny skill for violently persuading people off of whatever course they happen to be on.
When Amelia suddenly disappears, the unlikely pair find themselves forced to work together and wade through the seedy underbelly of LA to find her; unravel the truth behind the growing collection of bodies that seem to be following them around and try desperately not to end up at the top of that pile of corpses themselves.
Now, some films like to think they’re funny and fail miserably. Some films want to tell a story and never quite seem to keep me interested enough to have me care about it. The beauty of a film like The Nice Guys is that it hits a perfect sweet-spot of really cool story, told brilliantly; and a perfectly paired up couple of polar opposites that get a steady stream of laughs as one hapless detective becomes two.
Headlining our fun little noir crime caper, in unlikely comedic turns for both, are all-but-typecast hard-man Russell Crowe as investigator/leg-breaker Healy – the stereotypical tough guy loner who may (or may not) have a heart of gold – along with his unwitting partner, Ryan Gosling’s equally unlikely funny-turn as the stumbling, bumbling, private eye who moonlights as a single dad to a mouthy, attitude filled teenage girl.
Supported by a pretty stellar cast including Matt Bomer as the hired clean-up guy; Keith David just being Keith David as a long-in-the-tooth heavy sent to beat on Healey; and Kim Basinger popping in for a few scenes and getting to play a high up police official for a bit. All of them come together to give an outstanding overall performance, but are almost completely outshined by relative unknown Angourie Rice as March’s teenage daughter, Holly; a girl whose smarts equal that of any of those she shares the screen with, but has more balls than any of them. She’s just outstanding and a ton of fun to watch.
70’s Los Angeles has been created beautifully, with plenty of subtle – and not so subtle – things to say about the way the world is today. The nuts political landscape in the States, climate change, and I’m sure if I actually understood how the entire city of Detroit went bankrupt a couple of years back, I’d get the point that was being made about the American auto industry. But as it is, I know our writer is poking at someone or some thing. I just don’t get what or who. What makes it great though, is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to get all the little nuances to thoroughly enjoy the film.
To say that Shane Black has found a nice soft chair right in the middle of his comfort zone would, without context, seem a little damning. But the fact is, he has long been the master of the buddy comedy, so he’s throwing the big punches that brought him to this fight and he’s throwing them perfectly. All those years hanging around the pros has given Mr. Black all the experience he needs and in only his third outing as a director has more than proven his ability to stand with the big boys. He delivers The Nice Guys with a precision of pace usually reserved for much more seasoned veterans, without compromising the story or the dialogue that once made him the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood.
The film doesn’t break any new ground, certainly not for its director. When you see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘s noir crime setting, The Last Boy Scout‘s ballsy teenage daughter and, frankly, every great buddy cop movie since 1987 – to name just a couple of the more obvious nods – The Nice Guys feels like you’re watching Shane Black’s greatest hits in one two-hour film.
But man, if you’re going to watch the best bits of someone’s Hollywood career, there aren’t many better to watch than his. I went in expecting a great film, well made, with a clever script and plenty of laughs – and that’s exactly what I got. A thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable film that I’ll gladly pay to go watch again.