A private detective and an enforcer try to find a missing girl in Los Angeles in 1977.
Shane Black is the man who, in his tender 20s, earned a quarter of a million dollars for the script to Lethal Weapon. The same year it released, he featured in Predator and also contributed to that script, later working on The Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero.
He was a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood… and then disappeared, returning with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005. And it was pure Black, with a wicked sense of humour, a pulpy plot and amazing casting in Robert Downey jr and Val Kilmer.
Black is playing in that same sandpit with his new movie The Nice Guys, which takes the action to the 70s and casts heavyweight leads in Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. And it’s one of the funniest films of the year.
There’s so much to like here, from the obvious quips to the pratfalls and the more subtle stuff in the way Gosling and Crowe play off eachother and the twisted take on noir. It’s also delightfully un-PC, with random nudity, violence and plenty of bad language.
A throwback then, and another example of Black making and remaking the same film for decades. It’s in the partnership of two men, the disparate connected cases and, yes, a somewhat negative treatment of women.
Much of that style is in service to the hardboiled detective novels which the filmmaker inhaled as a youth, given its own spin as a broad farce with action packed set pieces and a nice level of period detail.
Gosling’s affinity for comedy continues to impress, with a fine line in buffoonery that somehow rarely feels over the top. He’s absolutely hilarious here as the worst private detective ever, and I hope he continues in the genre.
Crowe is even more surprising. While it seems the Aussie is being set up as the straight man he actually shows some decent comic timing, even if it feels more poised and practised than Gosling’s shtick.
It’s an undeniably entertaining film, and one where the plotting is more or less kept in check – whereas Kiss Kiss Bang Bang quickly went off the deep end. But Black’s 2005 effort might still be the superior film.
For one thing, The Nice Guys feels a little too carefully edgy. KKBB was openly and aggressively subversive – filmed on a small budget with two stars who presumed they were at the tail end of their careers and a first time director. And those darker elements made it extra delicious.
Black’s latest comes from a major studio, with a budget of $50 million and also right in the wake of the huge hit of Iron Man 3. On top of that, you’ve got two stars in their prime and a project which simply can’t mine the same sleazy territory.
That’s no major criticism but it does result in a slightly less interesting film and it might be a little long at over two hours. I personally wasn’t a massive fan of the many CG extensions to sell the 70s, but it’s interesting to see the era on such a large scale.
And hey – these are pretty minor points, with the message really being that you need to see both of these films. Go buy KKBB and pay money to watch The Nice Guys in the cinema. You are guaranteed to have a great time and you’ll be supporting a film that doesn’t feature a single superhero, talking animated animal or anything from a galaxy far, far away. And that’s an exceedingly rare thing these days.