The Nice Guys is primarily a comedy but a movie that certainly does not skimp on the action either and at the end of the day is a completely welcomed departure from all of the animated films, huge tent poles and superhero movies audiences are going to mostly be treated to over the coming months. Shane Black hasn’t directed a lot of movies, but this film proves that his longtime experience in Hollywood has been put to good use now that he is finding himself in the director’s chair more often. The Nice Guys most closely resembles his 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also from Warner Bros., but as hard as it may be for fans of that film to believe, this is at the end of the day, probably Black’s best film to date.
The film takes place in 1977 Los Angeles and is centered around a pair of private eyes, played by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe respectively, who cross one another’s path thanks to the case of a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) which just so happens to intersect with the death of a porn star. The pair are forced to work together in order to solve the case and things get even more complicated when an agent from the Department of Justice, played by Kim Basinger gets involved. The plot thickens an awful lot along the way, perhaps more so than necessary, but it leads to a whole lot of comedy and a whole lot of guns going off all over the city.
Black has only directed two major feature films aside from The Nice Guys (and one TV movie) but he has been working in the business as a screenwriter going all the way back to Lethal Weapon, so this is a genre he is very familiar with and his DNA is all over this film, which he co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi. Every film Black has worked on, from Last Action Hero to Iron Man 3, has blended action with comedy at varying levels, but the blend in this film is particularly well struck and the two are weaved together in a way that can be surprising at times, but very welcome. Though the comedy is not all cut from the same cloth in terms of tone, the jokes really work and sure, as with all action movies some level of disbelief must be suspended at times, but certainly not on a level that is uncalled for.
Though Black is the true strength and champion of this film, it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without the pitch perfect cast that is headlined by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling who are both playing roles that are a bit out of their comfort zones. Gosling is almost always some version of his nameless character from Drive, but in The Nice Guys we finally get to see his comedic chops and true charisma that always seemed to be there but was never truly explored outside of a moment here or there. Crowe is almost exclusively a serious actor, which certainly plays into his tough guy persona in the film, but he has a surprising amount of comedic timing and the film serves as a reminder that he is truly one of the best actors of the modern era. His ability to play things straight and very serious help make the emotion in the film really land and ultimately make it more than just a goofy comedy where people shoot at one another.
Angourie Rice also deserves a lot of credit for playing Gosling’s daughter, as she gets a lot of screen time and improves pretty much every scene she is in. It is clear Black has an eye for young actors as he also cast Ty Simpkins in Iron Man 3 who of course went on to star in Jurassic World and also has a brief, though very entertaining, part in The Nice Guys. Shane Black also decided to set the film in the 70’s, which could have been a pointless gimmick, but ultimately winds up being a character in the film so to speak. There is a painstaking level of attention to detail and the 70’s backdrop actually serves the plot in many ways, not the least of which is by forcing the protagonists to navigate the case they need to solve without the benefit of modern technology.
Ultimately, The Nice Guys may not be for everyone, especially if you have to find a movie to take your kids to. That being said, if the trailers, any of Shane Black’s previous work or something that simply doesn’t fit into the usual summer movie vibe is appealing to you, this film should absolutely make you feel as though you spent your time and money wisely. There are a lot of movies coming out over the next few months, but this could easily be the pleasant surprise of the summer season. We are all looking forward to Black’s Predator sequel, but thankfully for us he decided to take the time to make his best movie to date in order to tide us over until then.