Following the mixed reception to his IRON MAN 3, one might expect the same kind of thing from Shane Black’s latest offering: it sounds almost like a buddy cop movie, within the familiar wheelhouse of the LETHAL WEAPON series. You wouldn’t be wrong to think that, and it isn’t a bad thing: the comedy and action are vividly coloured by Black’s characteristic subversion and absurdity.
Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a hard-man-for-hire and wannabe gumshoe in 1970s LA. Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a private detective with no aspirations. Healy is hired to get March off the trail of the mysterious Amelia (Margaret Qualley). March suspects that Amelia can help him with a missing person investigation: his client Mrs Glenn (Lois Smith) is desperate to track down her niece, porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) and hoping she will be found alive. Naturally, not is all as it seems, and the two men join forces as the plot thickens.
So far, so standard. The plot is never really at the forefront of the film, and the motivations […] are pretty opaque. Not that it matters…
So far, so standard. The plot is never really at the forefront of the film, and the motivations of anyone besides the central pair are pretty opaque. Not that it matters, as the plot is really just a trajectory designed to throw the characters together and have them spout Shane Black dialogue. This is no bad thing, as Gosling’s March in particular delivers some lines which are beyond his character’s apparent wit, as well as some that show him up as the drunken doofus he actually is. The disbelief of Crowe’s Healy at his new partner also highlights the straight(er) man bouncing off this admirably well, given Crowe isn’t particularly known for his comedic skills.
The whole affair is a bit of a shaggy dog tale, and Black can write dialogue that pops. Visual storytelling might not be the order of the day, but he has flair for a visual gag, particularly during action scenes such as the hotel-based affair which paves the way to the climax. It’s to Black’s credit that he can carry such a vague plot: the story flows well and very little appears to happen at the convenience of the script or be overly contrived (one bumble-bee inspired car crash aside).
It’s to Black’s credit that he can carry such a vague plot…
The lineage of THE NICE GUYS is clear to see. That it comes from the writer of LETHAL WEAPON, the director of KISS KISS BANG BANG (even IRON MAN 3 has many elements in common) wouldn’t surprise the unaware. No moulds are being broken here, but if you can get on board with a character-led action comedy featuring incompetent detective types and sharp-talking idiots then THE NICE GUYS hits the mark.
In fact, it arrives at a perfect point in the bigger cinematic cycle. We seem to have had years of excessively earnest superhero films – some good, some bad – with little subversive intention (BATMAN v SUPERMAN, the CAPTAIN AMERICA sequels) or more generic action films like TAKEN that take themselves far too seriously. THE NICE GUYS is a crucial reminder that we can do action comedies without constantly winking to the audience. It shows not everyone in this type of film needs to be described as ‘a badass’ – they can be a fucking idiot, and that’s ok. Hopefully, the fact that Black is doing this with original characters and not Iron Man and The Mandarin will provoke less mouth-foaming. THE NICE GUYS is not revolutionary, but that is precisely why it’s good.