Shane Black seems interested in the dynamics between certain kind of men, and less so, the dynamics between men and women, or between women at all.
His script for Lethal Weapon pretty much redefined buddy-buddy action movies: it payed tribute to the godfather of buddy films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid while setting the template (burnt-out hero; snappy dialogue; comedy; mayhem) for a score of films to follow, movies in which two mismatched men (one gruff and macho; the other gruff and responsible) are thrown together by circumstance, exchange one-liners, crash cars, visit strip-clubs, fire machine guns, and kill a a host of bad guys (usually Latino/Russian/Asian drug dealers). Shane Black has never worked with Michael Bay, but you can still blame him for junk like Bad Boys.
The Nice Guys, therefore, is something of a familiar story, but manages a few new wrinkles. It’s also quite funny in places. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are caught up in a neo-noir caper in Los Angeles: Crowe is the gruff, macho one who beats people up and asks questions later; Gosling is the dummy and involved in the film’s sillier slapstick moments (at one point, he even apes Lou Costello).
The Nice Guys is set in 1977, allowing the film to wallow in garish decor, fashion, and unenlightened politics. The story follows the complicated meandering path of most noir, with Goslng and Crowe as a couple of private detectives caught up in a case involving a dead body, a missing girl, a missing porn film, more dead bodies, heavies, corrupt politicians. The film has a breezy approach to the plot, which is simply there to give Crowe and Gosling stuff to do while they exchange banter.
Luckily, the two actors are very good and have great chemistry. Crowe, looking weary and heavy, plays it straight and is involved in most of the fisticuffs. Gosling shows he has quite a talent for comedy, and doesn’t mind making a fool of himself. Gosling’s character is a drunk widower with a teenage daughter (Angourie Rice), who of course is wiser than her old man, the only one of the trio who behaves responsibly, and who ends up doing most of the detective work.
The Nice Guys feels like a throwback, not just because of the period setting. There is undoubtedly a lot of CGI work in some of the scenes, but the action feels real, with some quite brutal fight scenes and shootouts that you can actually follow. More than that, though, the film recalls a time when movies were less concerned about offending people. It’s not PG, and it’s not PC either. The Nice Guys earns its R rating (15A in Ireland). Much of the time the film wants to have it both ways, to give knowing winks to the audience and pretend that this is all ironic (“In five years we’ll all be driving electric cars from Japan”), while still revelling in gratuitous female nudity and fag jokes.
The Nice Guys is doing nice business. Expect a sequel (called, presumably, The Nicer Guys).