“The Nice Guys” Movie Review


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     Through out his screenwriting career, Shane Black has shown a unique ability to seamlessly blend action and comedy into an effective genre, particularly when focusing on a mismatched pair of unlikely heroes.  His first foray into this realm was considered to be a game changer, when his script for 1987’s “Lethal Weapon” brought together two completely different personalities in Danny Glover’s Murtaugh and Mel Gibson’s Riggs resulting in what felt like a fresh new form of entertainment.  Black’s next screenwriting gigs adhered to generally the same formula, seeing the pairing of Bruce Willis with Damon Wayans in “The Last Boy Scout” and Geena Davis opposite Samuel L. Jackson in “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, both featuring Black’s signature dialogue and unique blend of action, but failing to live up to the promise of the “Lethal Weapon” films.  After what can only be considered a highly successful outing in big budget studio filmmaking having both written and directed “Ironman 3”, Black has returned to his action comedy roots with “The Nice Guys”, a 1970s detective story featuring all of the hallmarks which made his late 1980s and 1990s films so appealing.

     Using the identical formula seen in nearly all of his best work, Black teams up Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as an unlikely pair of private detectives based in 1977 Los Angeles, who after stumbling upon each other after being hired by different clients, find they are essentially after the same thing.  Crowe’s Jackson Healy is the resident tough guy, who through narration early in the film tells us he’s the kind of person you call when you need to put a scare into someone, which is usually done by way of the brass knuckles he carries with him in his jacket pocket.  Conversely, Gosling’s Holland March comes across as more of a con man, preferring to gain information by attempting to outsmart his would be targets, but also has no issue with taking full advantage of his older clients.  Surrounding them is an outstanding production design full of the vibrant color and sounds of the period, including characters using long corded phones, drinking Yoohoo, and smoking nearly every second.

     The plot concocted by Black is certainly one of his most convoluted, playing as a sort of mystery for most of the picture in a way that reminded me both in tone and in substance of Andrew Dice Clay’s “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”, if you can believe that, as it was also a Los Angeles based detective story and played out in much the same goofy way that this film does.  That’s not a knock on “The Nice Guys” at all, but it does mean Black’s screenplay and overall look of the film has been done many times before.  With the story centering around a mysterious porn film and the disappearance of the actors, actresses, and filmmakers responsible for its production, including they mysterious Amelia (Margaret Qualley), the seedy characters and the 70s vibe will definitely conjure up images of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”, but fortunately the characters Black has drawn up allow his effort to stand on its own even if the proceedings may have been influenced by the aforementioned films.

     Well developed characters and their unique dialogue have always been a strength of Black’s screenplays.  If you think back to how well you knew Riggs and Murtaugh after a viewing of “Lethal Weapon”, you probably thought the family would invite you in for a helping of leftovers from the refrigerator or perhaps maybe you knew enough to accompany Riggs for an appointment with the department shrink.  In “The Nice Guys”, Healy (Crowe) is presented as gruff and streetwise.  We know what his thoughts on marriage are and we also find out about an incident not long ago that yielded unwanted fame.  March (Gosling) lives with his teenage daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), in a Hollywood home that seems to far surpass the living he is making as a private investigator.  As they make their way through the case they now share, we learn a ton about each guy, further strengthening the audience’s stake in the story.  That’s important because this genre has been worn out over the years with dozens of terrible films in which the main characters felt as though they were made of cardboard and going through the motions for a paycheck. 

     Black breathes life into Healy and March with a smart blend of hilarious comedy and well timed situational action scenes that indicate to us how they think, which is to say they are not always on the same page.  The first two acts of the film border on brilliance, especially with the way March’s daughter is integrated into the story, as well as the series of hitmen and crooked law enforcers our pair of detectives run into along the way to uncovering the massive conspiracy going on around them.  A problem arises in the third act; however, which seems to be an indication that Black may have struggled on how to properly end the story, resulting in multiple scenarios bordering on unwanted silliness and implausible actions by several of the supporting characters.  Still though, there is something satisfying about a screenwriter who can have a character say something so shocking, that both the other characters on screen and the audience react in the exact same way.  There are plenty of scenes like that in this film, which allows “The Nice Guys” to be consistently entertaining, even if you dismiss the later scenes as being over the top.  GRADE: B-