Despite only three films under his belt as director, Shane Black is practically Hollywood royalty thanks to decades of highly explosive screenplays, from Lethal Weapon to Iron Man 3. With THE NICE GUYS, Black blends the irreverent detective story of directorial debut Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with the unrelenting kitchen sink approach of his work in the 1980s and 1990s. The results are, as one would expect, explosive.
As with all the best detective yarns, THE NICE GUYS is about a girl in trouble. Set in 1977, a young boy witnesses porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) die in a car crash, and soon more bodies connected to a mysterious film start to drop. Private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is given the task of tracking down Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) by Misty’s distraught aunt, who says she’s seen her alive. However, not wanting to be found, enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is sent to scare off March. Soon they realise their cases intersect in bigger ways, and the duo – along with March’s feisty teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) – are all chasing their case down the rabbit hole of Los Angeles.
Where Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was a film made to be devoured by film and pulp lovers, THE NICE GUYS broadens the appeal to the detective/action genre more generally. From the opening car crash, it’s clear that Black attempts to bring more surrealism and non sequiturs into his productions, at one stage involving the hallucination of a giant talking bee. Yet the core of the film is still the same basic structure as that earlier work, with two investigators of mixed competency accompanied by a far more talented young woman on a layered mystery. Crowe’s world-weary thug is spot-on, almost the sad logical extension of the kind of guy he played in L.A. Confidential two decades earlier. Gosling’s put-upon private dick is a spin on the affably clueless and boozy archetype, with a hearty dose of Three Stooges pantomime thrown in for good measure. Yet as is often the case with Black films, it’s the younger Rice who steals the show, her honest practicality and disarming frankness slapping the titular leads around the head more than once. At times THE NICE GUYS will strain believability, dropping solutions out of nowhere for nothing more than the immediate impact of their appearance. Yet like most of Black’s roller coasters, all the pieces form together to build a satisfying ride, accelerating in the last act so as not to let the characters (or the audience) off the hook for a second. In other words, it’s a great example of a Shane Black film.
2016 | US | Dir: Shane Black | Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi | Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger | Distributor: Roadshow Films (Australia), Warner (US) | Running time: 116 minutes | Rating:★★★★ (8/10)