Starring: Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Ryan Gosling (Drive), Angourie Rice (These Final Hours), Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers), Matt Bomer (In Time), Kim Basinger (Batman)
Director: Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Writers: Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes
Release Date: 20 May (US), 3 June (UK)
When you go see a Shane Black movie, you know from just his name what you’re going to get: a familiar but cleverly woven plot, witty dialogue, constantly bickering characters, some explosive action, and all of it set at Christmas. If you’re a serious cinema buff, you worship at this guy’s altar, and if you’re not then I’m sure you’ve at least seen Lethal Weapon or something. Black may deliver a similar product every time, but that product is always of quality and that’s because he’s a master at what he does. After finally breaking into modern Hollywood blockbusters with Iron Man 3, it seems Black has taken his newfound clout to pursue a passion project. And so now we have The Nice Guys, and it couldn’t be more of a Shane Black film if it tried.
The Nice Guys, like all of Black’s work, shares many similarities with other films in his own filmography. Here, it takes the caper comedy hijinks of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and gives it the chemistry and grit of Lethal Weapon, all wrapped up in the typical Raymond Chandler-esque mystery plot he so often homages. Outside of Black, there are also a few dashes of LA Confidential and Boogie Nights to the plot thrown in for good measure, adding up to create a film that is just like every Shane Black film but still somehow its own unique beast. What starts as a simple missing person investigation evolves into a madcap adventure across Los Angeles, subverting many clichés of the genre along the way as it takes its digs at the depraved side of popular industry and the flawed judgement of the justice system. Sure, the film hits every beat of the buddy cop movie right on point, but every other beat has a unique twang that could have only come from the pen of Black; a perfect example of why following the formula isn’t always a bad thing. The pacing is airtight, keeping the mystery alive with healthy breaks for gunfights and punch-ups, and never does a scene go by without some quotable remark or memorable piece of physical comedy. All in all, you’re going to be perfectly satisfied by the experience if you know what to expect.
But what always truly defines a Shane Black film is its mismatched pair of protagonists. Murtaugh and Riggs, Hallenbeck and Dix, Slater and Madigan, Caine and Hennessey, Lockhart and Gay Perry; all great examples of that lovable dynamic copied by many but so rarely perfectly imitated, and I think Jackson Healy and Holland March should be added to that list. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are perfectly cast and make for an instantly entertaining duo as the roughneck Healy and bedraggled March respectively, constantly trading barbs and making each other look like idiots through their misguided shenanigans. Crowe makes for an intimidating presence as he very straightforwardly informs his foes how he’s going to ruin their day, but he also brings a lot of depth to the role as a man who honestly wishes he could help in a way other than punching. Gosling is similarly troubled and brought down by the world, but he instead deals with it all through booze and confusing humour, providing witty comic relief that will have you both laughing with and at him. But there is a surprise third wheel to the usual two-hander formula, and that comes in the form of the wonderful Angourie Rice as March’s smartarse daughter Holly. Rice brings an intelligence beyond her years to a role that could have easily been annoying and superfluous but she ends up stealing away many scenes from the Hollywood superstars, actually solving the case half the time whilst Crowe and Gosling find themselves lost in their own idiocy; the Penny to Gosling’s Inspector Gadget. Margaret Qualley is also an entertaining presence as the elusive centre of the caper Amelia, and when is it ever a bad idea to add the baritone awesomeness that is Keith David to your movie? If there are any weaknesses in the cast, it would have to be Kim Basinger’s Judith Kutner. It’s not down to Basinger’s performance, but for a character so pivotal to the plot she’s introduced practically halfway through and only gets two scenes, ending up doing far more of her plot-important activities off-screen.
Whenever you see a movie set in the 1970s, it usually feels like they’re overdoing it even when it’s good. But here in The Nice Guys, it never feels overbearing. From the fashion and culture to the music, this is clearly a period film but it never feels the need to shove it down your throat. From a technical perspective, this is a film that could have easily been made forty years ago with its grainy sun-soaked visuals and the controlled grit of its camerawork; only rarely does the spell break and you remember you’re watching a 2016 film. The film’s soundtrack makes great of use of some classic period tunes, and the funk-filled score by John Ottman and David Buckley compliments the rest of the music impeccably.
The Nice Guys is a yet another jewel on the crown of Shane Black’s gleaming crown of a career, once again reaffirming himself as one of cinema’s darlings. It’s a wickedly entertaining ride that feels familiar but under the hood is a noticeably different beast to any of its creator’s other works. Crowe and Gosling are a perfectly matched duo that I’d love to see collaborate again whether in a sequel or a completely unrelated venture entirely, and someone please give this Angourie Rice girl more movies to steal the show in. But now that Black is moving onto his new entry into the Predator franchise, all I can wonder is how he’s going to incorporate Christmas into that movie.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10