You can spot a Shane Black film from a mile away: the punchy dialogue, bromantic leads and festive settings seem to have run through almost every Black production since he first showed up in Hollywood back in the 1980s.
Hell, even his random foray into the comic-book world with Marvel’s bravely hilarious Iron Man 3 found the same formula. And now, thankfully his latest venture, The Nice Guys, proves how it’s still 100% relevant and entertaining, even after all these years.
A hot-pants laden, disco-dancing 70s-set neo-noir, The Nice Guys finds L.A. muscle-man Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) crossing paths with crooked private detective and single father Holland March (Ryan Gosling) over the case of a missing girl. With their investigations running nowhere fast, the two partner-up and hit the streets, uncovering a murderous plot of corruption and oddly enough, pornography, along the way, all whilst joined by March’s punchy teen daughter Holly (Angourie Rice).
Yes, I did just use the words ‘pornography’ and ’teen daughter’ in the same sentence: this is far from the sort of politically sound filmmaking Hollywood has become more accustomed to as of late. Characters battle alcoholism, porn stars flail around in very little clothing and the entire plot basically revolves around the moral corruption of the two leads. It’s classical crime fiction finally back in motion, and Black embraces every last ounce of it.
If these are the sorts of films that often offend you, it’s worth switching off here. To everyone else: The Nice Guys might well be one of the most confident and well-honed films of the year. Part 40s-noir throwback (complete with hard-boiled voiceovers et al), part 70s-detective treat (think The French Connection with more laughs), Black’s creation is both relentlessly funny and one of the most dramatically riveting mysteries in a long while.
Although it might be Black’s and Anthony Bagarozzi’s script that does a great deal of the talking, happily feeding out morsels of plot wrapped in tight humour, just as much of the praise should be shared between their leading men.
Despite a few dodgy turns more recently, Crowe hits back with one of his most badass performances to date, shelling out heaps of the film’s best action set-pieces, whilst always remaining a cuddly teddy-bear type at heart. His ongoing back-and-forths with the ever-reliable Gosling sweep up most of the laughs (the rest snatched away by the easily loveable Rice), and the pair’s expected chemistry is a solid delight from start to finish.
Slide in an effortlessly glam setting, a twisty plot and a hefty supporting cast and what remains is a riotously good time at the movies. Well-shot, well-crafted and oozing with nostalgia, it’s a fun-fuelled, witty wake-up call to the heavily-saturated shelves of Hollywood today: old-school genres definitely still have their place.
And hell, with its semi-sequel-bait ending, we could even be looking at a new franchise altogether: Lethal Weapon for the 21st-century. Either way, whether that happens or not, The Nice Guys will always remain an insanely fun reminder of what we might be missing out on.
The Nice Guys is released in the UK on 3rd June by Icon Entertainment.