Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black’s third feature as a writer/director following Kiss, Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3. While Kiss, Kiss was heavily inspired by Raymond Chandler era pulp-detective fiction, here he moves focus to the sleazy allure of seventies crime.
Gone as well are the bold, honourable and “untarnished” archetypes of Chander’s crime fighters, most famously Philip Marlowe, replaced with Holland March (Gosling) a dishonest P.I, a man whose own daughter happily testifies is a bad person, and Jackson Healy (Crowe) a thug-for-hire.
They stumble along a long and convoluted conspiracy plot in 1977 Los Angeles, involving a dead porn star, a missing look-a-like, corrupt government officials and a secret mafia of automobile makers; aided by March’s smart-mouthed and quick witted daughter (Rice).
Since penning the mega-hit Lethal Weapon, Black has made odd-couple crime drama his forte, and here, as well as noir, his crime influences appear to be the likes of L.A Confidential, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice. If anything Black’s (and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi) influences are too myriad to be completely effective; the plot is too tangled and overblown, the twists far too predictable, but viewed purely as a comedy The Nice Guys is an uproarious success.
Previous Shane Black scripts have been heavy on witty, knowing dialogue and The Nice Guys proves to be no exception; only here he also throws in no small amount of slapstick and crude humour to raise the gag rate. It might mean that March has to be a little too stupid to be a believable P.I and the meandering and confused plot relies on no small number of contrivances (which are then mostly played for laughs), but it keeps the gag-rate high and the shots consistently find their target.
What is also impressive isn’t just the consistently high gag-rate, it’s the rage of comedy from high-brow to quick-fire repartee, to slapstick physical comedy, non-PC gross out humour to jokes about the size of somebody’s dick; The Nice Guys might visit some wells too often but it really does have comedy to suit all tastes. On rare occasion the jokes are forced and strike as being try-hard, and a few jokes are repeated to diminishing returns, but 95% of the gags hit and there are some huge, deep belly laughs to be had.
As for performances, Crowe hasn’t been this likeable in a long time and Mr. Ice Cool Gosling shows a surprising gift for comedy, particularly physical; while Rice is a future breakout star, balancing being the wise child in a world full of idiotic adults without being overly precocious or being an annoying know-it-all. What pathos there is comes from here too, either through her strange relationship with her father, or her budding friendship with Healy – such as pleading with him not to kill a man who has just tried to kill them.
The Verdict: The twists could only be more predictable if the action paused for a character to shout about what was going to happen in twenty minutes time; and some cuts here and there might have made a tighter, zippier gag rate and alleviated some concerns about a flabby plot, but if you go in just for the gags you’ll be laughing until you have tears in your eyes. It also further establishes Black as one of Hollywood’s most consistent directors.