MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Mystery-Comedy/ Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Yaya DaCosta, Kim Basinger, Ty Simpkens, Murielle Telio/ Runtime: 116 minutes
I think it is safe to assume at this time that Shane Black loves detective stories. Indeed this may be due in no small part to the fact that he’s practically spent his entire career sharing that tremendous passion with audiences. Yet although he has to be fair mixed things up a bit genre-wise over the years with a little bit of dabbling in fantasy, the spy game as well as some playtime in the Marvel superhero sandbox each one of those dabbles still, to some extent or another, boils down to an unlikely duo of truly damaged individuals who possess a determination that won’t stop until they solve the mystery. This plus within these films Black also has truly managed to honor the greats like Chandler and Hammett with some of their best trademarks such as windy and sprawling plots, quick-witted heroes, and not to mention a healthy dose of cynicism, and in the process manages to place some truly fun and engaging characters into genuinely original tales of redemption and heart. Indeed I think it’s safe to say that this love is extremely palpable whenever watching one of Black’s movies unfold, and while this does go all the way back to 1987 and his work on the original Lethal Weapon, I can safely say that, upon seeing his latest journey into that realm that is The Nice Guys that Black is not only still at the top of his game, but that the detective genre truly is still just as strong and powerful as it’s ever been.
Now although the film is the fourth time that Mr. Black has played around in the private eye sandbox, following The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang respectively this one has the additional joyous pleasure of taking us back to 1970s Los Angeles. Indeed within this cynical, post-Watergate-drenched setting we as an audience soon get to know the perfectly-named Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a smart-but-seemingly idiotic, bumbling, and almost always drunk P.I. who finds he is able to function mostly due to his self-sufficient teenage daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), but also by exploiting the elderly citizens of LA who hire him on mostly dementia-fueled jobs.
It’s also because of one of these jobs which takes the form of an old woman hiring him to find her niece, a young woman named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) who also happens to be a porn star that a few days prior had been discovered dead, that Holland winds up meeting Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a world-weary heavy for hire who has been employed by a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) after she gets wind of Holland asking questions about her. Thus upon finding Holland, Jackson surgically and methodically breaks the private eye’s arm and successfully convinces him to stay away, but soon Jackson finds himself having to reunite with Holland and ask for his assistance when he believes that Amelia’s life may be in danger. Of course, albeit with plenty of completely understandable reluctance, Holland agrees to the job, but soon this genuine odd couple winds up uncovering a conspiracy far larger than they could have anticipated….
Now although The Nice Guys is, obviously in many ways, a throwback this is also a film which I feel I should tell you often takes advantage of those sensibilities by generating up certain expectations and then truly surprising the audience with some clever last minute sharp left turns. Yet as winding and compelling as the plot is, we also see there is no sacrifice of character building at all as we truly get to intimately know all of the key players at the center of the story, and really truly care about what happens to them by film’s end. Also while the script brings back many of the classic and yet still awesome Shane Black trademarks, including whip-smart kids and even a bit of the Christmas spirit, the “buddy cop” leads are obviously front and center. It is wonderful to be able to tell you then that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe honestly are absolutely nothing short of perfect as we get to see that a subtle goofball/straight-man line is drawn between them that takes the form of their individual approaches to solving the case. That and let’s be real: the back and forth banter between the 2 of them is plain and simply quite magical as it often proves blissfully goofy while simultaneously remaining grounded and real. Indeed both of our main characters have faults that make us laugh as well as personal histories that give them important context, and they share an unusual connection in that here are 2 guys who find themselves constantly in danger of letting their emotional baggage as well as the worst parts of themselves take over, the drink in Holland’s case, and apathy in Jackson’s. Suffice it to say then that although these guys are not in any way, shape, or form built to live in the hero spotlight for long you still at the very least want to see them bask in it for a little while.
Now The Nice Guys is only Black’s third feature as a director, and although the script presents him with new challenges that were not to be found in either Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Iron Man 3, Black is still able to step up to the plate and deliver on each and every one of them. This is because for no other reason than these challenges are just so within his wheelhouse of things he can do and do extremely well. This starts with the fact that as we see that as it was in reality, Black’s 1970s Los Angeles is a truly sleazy and slimy place, but it’s still painted in such an atmospheric way that it’s brilliantly inviting for fans of the genre. Also as a director, Black demonstrates an absolutely fantastic eye for terrific visual comedy be it Holland talking to Jackson while in a bathroom stall and struggling to handle a gun, book, and lit cigarette simultaneously, or our two heroes stepping out of an elevator in a hotel to find themselves witnesses to an incredibly violent scene. Indeed from this movie’s opening shot, which takes us as an audience up and over the, at that particular time, absolutely dilapidated Hollywood sign, Black manages to transport you into The Nice Guys’ noir-ish world. Yet by the time the credits roll you may find yourself disappointed; not in the movie mind you, but in that you aren’t able to stay in this film’s world for longer than a few minutes shy of 2 hours.
All in all this may not be the special-effects laden spectacle that a number of its competitors in the industry were in the summer of 2016, but The Nice Guys is nevertheless a crowd-pleaser on the same level. This truly is a film that manages to be equal parts entertaining and emotional, but in the process lets you escape to another world for an hour and 56 minutes. Indeed as I said before the detective genre has persisted in Hollywood because it has everything you could want from a film and suffice it to say that Shane Black’s latest really truly delivers on all of those things and at the same time so much more. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Nice Guys a solid 4 out of 5.