In the late 80s, Shane Black hit it big with the screenplays for the first two Lethal Weapon movies. But then he went and followed them up with The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight (apparently he had a thing for the letter “L”), and his star fell just as quickly as it had risen. It took another 17 years for him to finally become a name again, writing and directing the juggernaut Iron Man 3, currently the tenth highest grossing film of all time. Before Iron Man 3, though, Black co-wrote a screenplay with Anthony Bagarozzi about two 1970s-era detectives searching for a missing teenaged girl in Los Angeles.
…which brings us to 2016– in roughly the same complex, circuitous route that it takes for the plot of The Nice Guys to finally unfurl.
Overly elaborate story notwithstanding, the movie itself is one of the most entertaining so far this year. And Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling share one of the better cop-buddy chemistries since– well, Lethal Weapon. And the hilarious micro moments of the script far outweigh any macro issues.
Crowe is Jackson Healy, a freelance investigator hired by the aforementioned girl to protect her from some shadowy bad guys. Gosling is Holland March, a former cop who’s investigating a separate case, which quickly becomes intertwined with Healy’s. Along the way things as disparate as a dead adult film producer, a blue dye pack, and the Detroit Auto Show all get folded in, giving The Nice Guys a quirky, Coen-Brothers-by-way-of-Quentin-Tarantino sorta feel.
Black’s script does have plenty of smart moments, including most of the times Gosling and Crowe open their mouths to talk to each other. And eventually, yes, all the seemingly unrelated plot points come together with a pretty little bow; it just takes a much more labyrinthine path than necessary.
Gosling and Crowe turn in their most entertaining performances in years, and they’re backed up by a supporting cast that’s aces across the board. Along with Kim Basinger, Keith David, and Matt Bomer, we also get stellar newcomer Angourie Rice as March’s spunky 13-year-old daughter.
From the opening credits’ funk of “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” straight through to the fun, dust-has-settled closing scene, The Nice Guys is a blast– the perfect mix of smart and froth to remind you that summer doesn’t have to be all about superheroes and sequels.