The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black.
Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta, Lois Smith, Murielle Telio, Gil Gerard, Jack Kilmer, Ty Simpkins.
“Alright, which one of you cock-and-balls wants to make twenty bucks?”
Back in the 80’s and 90’s writer Shane Black was actually quite a prominent player in Hollywood and a big contributor to the hugely successful wave of “buddy-movies”. His writing credits extended to The Monster Squad, Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight before he decided to take a break from studio pressures. He returned in 2005 for his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before disappearing again, only to resurface with Iron Man 3 a few years ago. For those that grew up on Black’s earlier works (like myself), his latest in The Nice Guys should come as a fond reminder of his action/comedy antics.
In 1970’s Los Angeles, mismatched private investigators Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) find themselves having to work together to search for a missing girl. A girl who might be related to the death a porn star and in some way involved in political corruption.
The Nice Guys certainly isn’t very far from where Shane Black found most of his success. Once again, he uses kidnapping as a plot device while having time to focus on the friendship/partnership from his leading protagonists.
Where Black finds a new niche, though, is in his setting. The decision to set it in the 70’s brings all sorts of new possibilities. We settle in to a murky noir where a porn star has been murdered, a dame has gone missing, corruption is rife and there are two local gumshoes trying to turn a buck.
And it’s in the casting of the gumshoes that Black strikes gold; Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are a superb duo. The chemistry they share is absolutely infectious and it’s this chemistry that raises the standard of what could have been a very formulaic film.
Crowe plays the straight-man to Gosling’s slapstick, physical comedy and they play off each other brilliantly. It really must be noted just how funny Gosling is, though. I don’t want to take anything away from Crowe as his contribution is solid but Gosling near runs away with the film. The delivery of his dialogue and comic timing is genius. He might have done a few skits on Saturday Night Live and showed his comedic chops in Crazy, Stupid, Love but he excels himself here.
What lets Black down, though, is when he veers away from the comic chemistry of his stars and allows a muddled, cartoonish action segment to take over. It’s around this point that the story lacks coherence and without the great work of Crowe and Gosling, the film wouldn’t quite be as entertaining as it is.
To be fair to Black, he attempts to shuffle quite a bit in his narrative. A convoluted plot with action and comedy isn’t easy to pull off but, for the most part, he handles it well. Even if the film gets a little overly complex and suffocates under it’s own weight. Some supporting characters come and go and the likes of Kim Basinger’s character doesn’t contribute very much – which is probably a good thing considering her performance is wooden and as constricted as her Botox. Kudos to young Angourie Rice, though. Her contribution gives the two leads a run for their money and for such a young actress, she shows a lot of promise.
Trivia: The project was initially proposed as a TV series but was re-tooled as a film after the pilot seemed to be going nowhere.