Director: Shane Black
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger
Plot: A muscleman-for-hire (Crowe) and inept PI (Gosling) team up to track down a missing porn film, save a girl on the run and unravel the conspiracy at the heart of the madness.
I have always been a massive fan of Shane Black. His scripts are darkly witty, taking Noir heroes and action movie staples, then injecting them with a fresh slice of fun that keeps tired narrative devices and cliché characters fun. His number one movie is easily Lethal Weapon, the clearest buddy cop example in movie history. The Nice Guys acts as a smart blend of Lethal Weapon and his sleeper hit, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (my personal favourite from his collection), and gives us the Shane Black comedy we have been craving for a while now.
It’s a delightful waste of time. For all of the clever gags or bonkers fight sequences, The Nice Guys struggles to keep its head above the water compared to the stiff competition from other summer blockbusters. It acts as a simple distraction, fun so extreme it is often violently in-your-face. Its plot is less a thrilling mystery, but more a puzzle that moulds itself around the set-pieces Black wants to use. The story isn’t as complex as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which still makes little sense to me, but the story does strike the viewer as a second thought. It is less about cleverly setting up what connects a dead porn star to the missing daughter of Justice Department Official and more about cramming in as many gags as possible. Mind you, as stated above, it is more of an annoying thought in the back of your mind rather than a fun-killer. Black is a master of noir-comedy, so when he indulges himself in a prolonged sequence, where inept detective Gosling interviews porn stars at an adult movie convention after one too many drinks, we don’t mind him having his cake and eating it. While the jokes do get in the way of some of the softer moments which had room to be ground-breaking material, other times it keeps The Nice Guys the freshest action of the year. There are several moments in the film where punch-ups are directed entirely by luck. One scene sees the heroes at gunpoint from a femme fatale, only for each of their attempts to break free fall so pathetically on their faces, the tension is cut with belly-aching laughs. While you might want the movie to embrace the bloody action which made Lethal Weapon so successful, you must admit that the humour has more of a kick to it than most of the other comedy blockbusters out there this year. So while the Nice Guys is a bit of an average entry in the action category, if you seek some laughs, this could be the film for you.
The performances are pretty much hemmed in to the three leads. While there are the odd actors who crop up as maniacal villains or cold-blooded killers, for the most part, our attention is fixed entirely on Crowe, Gosling and Rice. Crowe is on fine form, as the gruff thug, who makes a living from threatening people, while subtly being threatening himself. He is on a moral crisis, questioning if he should change his ways, but too scared at the financial ruin it would leave him in. Crowe can do no wrong in this role, every inch the part, as a hulking mass of muscle, who has let old age wear him down slightly. It is always fun seeing Crowe step away from the melodrama or pieces like Noah or Robin Hood. Ever since Gladiator, the actor hasn’t really done much fun roles, so it is appealing to watch him step up to the plate in Shane Black’s movie and deliver a wonderful performance here. But Ryan Gosling steals the show by going as non-Gosling as I have seen him in quite some time. With the Big Short, he pretty much fell back on every stereotype the celeb mags have for him, using his natural charisma to drift through a script. He smartly played on his reputation to help the movie get the most out of his casting. However, here, he does the opposite, constantly turning his tough guy image on its head. He is never anything less than an utter idiotic, always doing something utterly moronic, usually moments after solving a clue. It is great seeing him throw away a lead by doing something bafflingly odd or squealing like a little girl, when he finds himself next to a dead body. The Nice Guys is Gosling’s movie and while it seems to be holding back Crowe from going full Mel Gibson in his Shane Black, it appears to be giving Gosling all the material he needs to land the funniest role of 2016. You end up watch whole moments where you wonder who wrote Gosling’s reaction to an event and in some places, how Shane Black convinced Gosling to go along with it. In any case, you will leave The Nice Guys having much more respect for the actor. And I can’t write a review without applauding Angourie Rice as the surprise hit of the film. Really, it should be titled The Nice Guys and Girl, because Rice is as much a part of the trio of heroes as the lads. She is surprisingly clever, a great source of humour and gives the Nice Guys the edge it needs to be a highly recommended piece.
Final Verdict: Less must-watch cinema and more a fun Friday film. But it shines as a fun distraction, mirroring the cop films we miss from the good old days.