Shane Black possesses some pretty serious cinema credentials. He wrote Lethal Weapon, which must rank as one of the best action films ever made and spawned a long-running but sadly qualitatively diminishing franchise (he only really wrote the first one, to be fair), and more recently (co)wrote and directed Iron Man 3, another franchise juggernaut and this time the tenth highest grossing movie of all time. So, yeah, he knows a thing or two about writing and directing films. So, one would expect his latest creative offering to be pretty good. And, well, it is.
Carrying over the ‘buddy’ relationship that made Lethal Weapon so enjoyable and playing with the slightly more silly and hapless duo dynamic from his directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Trivia: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang star Val Kilmer’s son, Jack, has a cameo here. Just saying.), Black delivers a hugely entertaining romp of a ride in The Nice Guys. But, who are these ‘nice guys’? (**Spoiler Alert** The movie’s tagline is, ‘They’re not that nice.’) We have the pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
Fans of Curtis Hanson’s seminal 1997 neo-noir classic, LA Confidential, will recognise something very ‘Bud White’ about Crowe’s performance as Jackson Healy. Albeit the tone couldn’t be more different – slick, silly comedy action rather than dramatic and aesthetic brilliance – a confluence of characteristic energy flows through Crowe as the city’s hard man: big, strong and his violent outgoings merely the vehicle for his conflicted soul, as he ultimately wants only to do the right thing by those having the wrong thing done unto them. He is brilliantly watchable here and his brutish, imposing physical presence is played to perfection. He still deserves his place at Hollywood’s table of bankability.
As for Gosling, he has star quality to burn as he lets loose and goes all-out with his comedy performance. He’s good, he’s very good, but just on a couple of occasions (the toilet door, by the tree) teeters over the edge and plays it a bit OTT. Only proving that comedy is hard and you mustn’t try too hard to get those laughs. Look, he’s brilliant as the ever-drunk and slightly useless private detective, Holland March, and shows that his acting skeleton is not without a generous smattering of comedy bones, but Jim Carrey he is not. So he shouldn’t try for that kind of performance. That’s what Jim Carrey is for. To be Jim Carrey. Anyway, that aside, the dynamic and timing between the two leads is effervescent which makes for a very fun film. And that’s just exactly what The Nice Guys is: fun.
The 70s setting certainly not only adds to the footloose and fancy free style, captured cooly by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, but actually serves to cover any narrative cracks that may otherwise have been exposed and is quite a brilliant choice from Black; giving everything a retro ambience forgives any shortcomings found in the plot-lite. Let’s avoid the slithering temptation to say that the era itself almost becomes a character in the movie…
So, let’s say instead: who would want to watch just another buddy action-comedy set in the present day? Think Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg for your answer. But being set in the overtly stylish and sexy 70s also obscures the fairly consistent, gratuitous and unbalanced portrayal of female nudity (the central plot device is that our heroes are trying to track down a female porn star, so maybe they covered that one too…) and the underrepresentation of anything approaching a strong female character.
Enter Angourie Rice, who quite simply sets the screen alight as the precocious and long-suffering, if not diminutive, daughter to Gosling’s never-present and/or inebriated father. One to watch, a la Kirsten Dunst and Dakota Fanning. Kim Basinger pops up in an ancillary role but still manages to effuse some of her dwindling star power and provides us with another link back to LA Confidential (where she also co-starred with Crowe). Aren’t we clever. Oh, and, in case it wasn’t clear, this film is also set in LA. So that about wraps it up. LA Confidential meets Kiss Kiss Bang Bang set in the 70s. Sounds alright doesn’t it.
The Nice Guys is a classic, old school movie; go to the cinema, watch it and have a great time. Then leave, never really thinking of it again but feeling sated and confident that you just got your money’s worth. And if enough of you do that, then we may well see The Nice Guys 2 in a couple of years. And that wouldn’t be so bad at all.