Director: Shane Black
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe
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Have you seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? The answer to that question may well determine your reaction to The Nice Guys. Shane Black’s latest noir comedy is delightfully dark and unabashedly violent. It’s just not as good as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
After Lethal Weapon’s Riggs and Murtaugh and even Iron Man 3’s Stark and Rhodes, Black’s knack for casting buddy cop movies hasn’t worn off. Here, he picks the perfect odd couple from the most unexpected of places: Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Together, they make such a good pairing that you wonder why they haven’t teamed up before.
Gosling plays Holland March, a loser of a private detective, whose clientele are mostly old women. Crowe plays Jackson Healy, an enforcer with heart of gold, which means he’s good at punching people, but still feels bad about it. They’re sharp-suited, sharp shooters but blunt as bricks in the brains department. That role goes to March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice).
A smart, sassy young girl wise-cracking at the dumb adults around her? It’s one of the more obvious cliches you’ll find in The Nice Guys, but this is a Shane Black film – and Shane serves up cliches so he can flip them upside down with a smile. And so we’re treated to a whole heap of stereotypes, from the neon scuzziness of the 70s (complete with porn stars, colourful clothes and drug-fuelled parties) to the twisting hard-boiled mysteries of trashy paperbacks.
The plot, though, which revolves around the sinister death of actress Misty Mountains, lacks the smarts of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – a crucial flaw in a film that relies so much on the genre’s strengths. The jokes, too, don’t always land smoothly, which means that there’s the odd stretch where there’s little to keep you hooked – one 15-minute diversion involving a suitcase of cash feels like unnecessary, predictable padding.
But there are so many jokes stuffed into the script that even when there’s an awkward moment of silence, it’s never too long until the next giggle arrives. That’s partly thanks to the chemistry of our main couple; when they get it right, they really get it right. Crowe, who is sending up his own gruff performance in LA Confidential, proves that he could do comedy more often – watching him and Rice bounce off each other never fails to be hilarious. (“You beat people up and charge money?” “Yeah.” “How much would you charge to beat up my friend Janet?”) Gosling, meanwhile, emerges as a natural at slapstick, his drunken dad less stumbling upon clues and more falling off balconies to find them.
Black throws it all together with the slick skill of a veteran, but his playful staging of action sequences remains a novel joy to watch, especially when Matt Bomer’s assassin, John Boy, enters the stage. The result is exactly what you’d expect from Shane Black, which is partly the problem, as he’s not only done it before, but also done it better. Indeed, it’s telling that the most surprising parts are actually the more straight-laced moments, which see Rice (perhaps the best of the bunch) subverting Gosling’s occasionally over-the-top schtick with some sentimental scenes about his failings as a father – matched by an unexpectedly subtle depth to Crowe’s decent human being. Combined with the effortless period vibe, the superb dialogue and the stylish soundtrack, that sweet streak makes up for any other shortcomings the film might have. Even without the post-modern wit of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Nice Guys may finish second, but it’s nowhere near coming last.
The Nice Guys is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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