When it comes to finding the right recipe for a great action-comedy film, screenwriter and director Shane Black has proven himself to be a master chef with films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, and even the recent Iron Man 3 (currently the 10th highest-grossing movie of all time worldwide). Along with a knack for perfect pacing and tight, smart dialogue, Black has an uncanny ability to put the action just where it needs to be — and in just the right amounts — to keep a film balanced and moving along at just the right speed for his audience.
At this point, Black is as close to a sure thing as you can get in the genre, and his latest film, The Nice Guys, keeps that streak alive in all the best ways.
It’s not perfect, but The Nice Guys may be the perfect Shane Black movie.
Set in 1970s Los Angeles, The Nice Guys casts Ryan Gosling (Drive) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator) as a hard-luck private investigator and enforcer, respectively, who become reluctant partners when they find themselves searching for the same missing girl. As the pair get pulled deeper into the mystery surrounding the girl — a mystery that involves a dead porn star, flashy cars, and the Justice Department — they struggle to keep their heads above water as the bodies pile up.
Of all the films Black has written or directed, The Nice Guys might very well be the best showcase of exactly what he brings to a film and its cast.
Despite a long list of wildly successful, genre-defining films he wrote or co-wrote over the years, Black has only recently been given the opportunity to write and direct projects. He earned quite a bit of critical praise for his 2005 directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a spin on hardboiled crime stories that paired Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer and helped rejuvenate Downey’s career, but didn’t direct another film until 2013’s Iron Man 3, a massive blockbuster that almost certainly afforded Black a bit more creative freedom on his next project.
That next project is The Nice Guys, and it doesn’t take long for the film to feel like exactly the sort of film Black would make if a studio let go of the leash and let him do what he does best.
In many ways, what works so well in The Nice Guys is a testament to the talents of both Black and his film’s leading men, neither of which are particularly known for their comedic chops. And yet, Crowe and Gosling appear quite comfortable as the film’s odd-couple protagonists, and throw themselves into the film’s humorous moments with just as much commitment as they devote to the action sequences. Of course, it probably helps that Black gives them some genuinely entertaining opportunities to flex those comedic muscles, with Crowe delivering an epic spit-take at one point in the film that needs to be seen to be believed, and Gosling occasionally channeling Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau at his bumbling, clumsy best.
Recognition should also be dished out to young actress Angourie Rice, who portrays the teenage daughter of Gosling’s character. Rice holds her own with Crowe and Gosling admirably, and is one of the film’s pleasant surprises as a character that manages to seem smart without falling into the stereotype of the precocious teen.
If there’s any flaw to be found in The Nice Guys, it’s one that’s common to many of Black’s films (and many hardboiled crime stories, for that matter): An occasionally shaky MacGuffin that propels the story forward.
Shane Black has proven himself to be a master chef with films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, and even the recent Iron Man 3.
Although it seems like a simple murder mystery and missing person that initially brings Crowe and Gosling’s characters together, the ever-expanding conspiracy at the heart of The Nice Guys occasionally seems to spread too thin for the narrative to handle. The relationships between all of the players in the story feel uncertain at times, and things move along too quickly for the audience to disengage, figure things out, and come back to the film without missing the next key plot point. Why everyone is chasing the missing girl, who’s really chasing her, and what exactly they want from her all feel like questions that never get fleshed out entirely amid all of the crazy events unfolding around the film’s leading men.
Fortunately, Black and his cast make it easy to get swept away in the wild ride that The Nice Guys offers its audience, and the enjoyment one gets from watching Crowe and Gosling bumble their way through a perfectly re-created 1970s LA far outweighs any storytelling issues in the film.
It’s not perfect, but The Nice Guys may be the perfect Shane Black movie. Edgy, exciting, and not afraid to poke fun at the tropes of its own genre, The Nice Guys is unabashedly a Shane Black film from start to finish, and leaves you hoping it will be the first of many more to come.
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