Film review: The Nice Guys

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are The Nice Guys in Shane Black’s latest detective duo film. Photo: Warner Bros. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are The Nice Guys in Shane Black’s latest detective duo film. Photo: Warner Bros.

For the first time in his impressive career, the Shane Black formula never clicks. The Nice Guys, a somewhat enjoyable mystery-comedy, feels more like a filmmaker doing an impression of the writer-director than the work of the man himself.

First, an assessment of what makes Black’s work stand out. More than any other modern filmmaker, Black’s greatest strength is the way he crafts stories that add up to more than the sum of their parts—even reusing the same parts without making them feel recycled. He didn’t invent the buddy cop genre, but it was never the same after Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2. Though contemporary critics were not kind to The Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero, neither deserved the pile-on and are worth reevaluating. And incredibly, two of his greatest achievements—Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3—came 15 years after anyone else in his position might have retired.

If you’re a Shane Black fan, all of your boxes will be checked by The Nice Guys: buddy cop banter. Christmas. Opening with a sensational, newsworthy murder. An A-list cast of tough guys whose cynicism masks their bruised hearts. Although the film is often funny, looks terrific and captures the 1970s vibe with a modern approach to storytelling, the various narrative and thematic threads feel like they’re in competition rather than working together.

The plot involves a case that unites hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling), both on the tail of runaway actress Amelia (Margaret Qualley), whose life may be in danger due to the mysterious deaths of everyone involved in a single pornographic film in which she appeared. Along for the ride is March’s precocious daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), whose enthusiasm for the case and frustration with her father never find even ground despite an excellent performance from the young actress.

The pairing of Crowe and Gosling is certainly one of the best decisions made in The Nice Guys, and, in a better movie, it may have been on par with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as Riggs and Murtaugh. Crowe was practically born to play no-nonsense tough guy Healy, while the comic timing and impressive physicality of Gosling’s performance may lead to a new era in his output. For that reason, The Nice Guys may be the best argument for never watching trailers again, because every facet of the pair’s dynamic, as well as many of the best gags, are given away in a three-minute bit of advertising. Granted, this is an uncomplicated film, but that three minutes could suck the laughter out of the liveliest moments indicates Black isn’t bringing his best material. Watch Lethal Weapon again nearly 30 years later and you’ll still belly laugh. Watch The Nice Guys after seeing the trailer and you’ll perhaps frequently chuckle but never guffaw.

That this ranks low on the Black oeuvre is a testament to his skills, and his upcoming projects are still promising (the next Predator installment and a semi-remake of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins). There’s a lot to like in The Nice Guys if you’re in the mood for it. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot to love.

The Nice Guys R, 116 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

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