Shane Black has been a mainstay of Hollywood for over twenty years. He made his big break as the screenwriter of Lethal Weapon. His fame kept rising till the financial debacle of The Long Kiss Goodnight. After that, Black disappeared until his critically lauded Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. That film reinvigorated his career as well as Robert Downey Jr.’s. Now, eleven years after Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Black returns to the genre with the 1970’s set slapstick neo-noir The Nice Guys. The script is pure Shane Black, with his love of verbal dexterity in his characters, even as they are complete buffoons. Black’s signature blend of cynical humor is certainly front and center here as well. The film starts with the twisted blending of sex and death. A young boy steals a porno magazine from his parent’s room, while that same woman literally crashes through his house. She is sprawled out in the same position in the magazine as she is bloodied and topless against her car. Black sets the stakes immediately, but not only that, he sets the moral tone of the film. The story proper follows a bumbling private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and a hired heavy Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). The two couldn’t be more mismatched. March is a frantic alcoholic who is barely able to make it through the day. Healy on the other hand, is a detached and imposing figure with a moral code, though wildly misguided, it is still a code. The glue that brings them together is the 1970s, and like any hero in that time period they are both damaged. The two meet up, in true noir fashion, to wander through a labyrinthine plot and uncover a wide web of intrigue. They are aided in the process by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). The plot is almost utter nonsense. That’s not the point, though. Black is interested in creating a mood that hangs over this picture like the ever-present fog of the Los Angeles skyline.  There is a lot that hangs over the town here. There is certainly a feeling of post-Nixon malaise and the impending rise of Ronald Reagan. The remnants of Vietnam are everywhere in this world. Everyone in this world is a victim of something. Yes, Black cares about these things, but he tells this story through a prism of cynical comedy. Perhaps the line that iterates this best is when March says to Healy, “Hey, at least you’re drinking again.” The line is beautifully delivered and is funny for how backward it is. But, Black suggests a world here that is best accompanied by some alternate substances. The movie isn’t bleak, though. It may have a bleak streak that runs through it, but it is guided by the character of Holly who is the moral center of the film. The characters of March and Healy both want to be good, and strive to be good, but they are willing participants in a world that has long since washed away their innocence. Holly however, has retained that innocence in the face of every possible obstacle. The comedy, though. This is the funniest mainstream film of the last few years. The central performances of Gosling and Crowe are some of the best performances of their respective careers. Gosling shows a completely different bag of tricks. He is manic and squealy, but still brings nuance where it is needed. He brings great verbal acuity to the role, but it is his Buster Keatonesque physical comedy that really connects. Crowe is playing in the same field he is known for, but he brings a lightness that we haven’t seen from Crowe since the ill-fated A Good Year. The actors’ chemistry is undeniable. They bounce off each other with a verve and spirit that made something like Lethal Weapon so great. There are problems here, not least of which is the story. It is the type of film that you wish saw one more pass from the studio. Some of the plot details don’t add up and easily would have been smoothed out if there was another draft. But the messy plot means it still rests in the noir tradition perfectly. It is shaggy and messy, but endlessly watchable. The plot revolves around, well I’m not sure really. It has something to do with a missing girl and a porno film with an embedded story that will topple the auto industry. It is a flaw of the film, but at the end of the day, I would rather live in that kind of mess than something overly polished and too smoothed out. The Nice Guys isn’t a masterpiece. It is a good middle-budget picture that we used to see a lot of. That may be the secret to the film’s charm. For all of its posturing, it is still just a modest film with amiable leads and a laugh a minute. It is a product of the 90s like Black himself. Movies didn’t always have to open to $200 million to be a success. I miss those days and The Nice Guys brought me back there for a few hours. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 3 Responses Shawn EH June 21, 2016 Loved this film! So funny! Also loved The Long Kiss Goodnight: so subversive! I guess I really need to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, huh? Log in to Reply Peterson Hill June 27, 2016 Definitely recommend KISS KISS, BANG BANG. Probably prefer THE NICE GUYS. Some of the homosexuality humor hasn’t aged great in KISS KISS, BANG BANG. Log in to Reply Shawn EH June 27, 2016 Good warning, thanks! RDJ hasn’t always been great in that area. Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.