THE NICE GUYS Review
Director: Shane Black
Genre: Comedy, Noir
Boasting the safari-guide to a hyper-stylized 70’s Los Angeles a la L.A CONFIDENTIAL and THE BIG LEBOWSKI’s approach to a deus ex machina-laden knack for humor, THE NICE GUYS is unequivocal fun. Blissfully goofy and relishing in the chemistry of its two charismatic leads, director Shane Black has not only crafted a wildly entertaining, retro buddy comedy, but a beautifully shot film in its own right, despite a handful of hiccups that ought to have been addressed in the screenwriting process. Through Black’s experience with the indelible LETHAL WEAPON and fantastic KISS KISS BANG BANG, this 2016 vehicle only further validates the old school qualities that make it such a force of raw entertainment and showcases the director’s desire to craft more complex characters in the process.
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make for a knee-slapping pairing as two private investigators that wind up assisting each other on the same case. Following in the footsteps of the greatest buddy cop films, THE NICE GUYS builds up a fantastic inciting incident by forming the least convenient pairing out of its leads. While Crowe’s violent “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset surely clashes with Gosling’s selfish hunt for paychecks and drunken luck, the screenplay doesn’t rely on these two archetypes to simply inconvenience them.
I’m young enough for this shit
Paul Feig’s THE HEAT was arguably the last memorable buddy caper, but often relied too heavily on the improvisational back and forth between its two stereotypical leads. THE NICE GUYS avoids cliché quite well by forming fleshed out individuals that the audience gets to know and then banks on comedy that’s often rooted in the fact that these titular guys really don’t know anything about each other. This is best displayed in Crowe’s nostalgic retelling of the best day in his life, a moment that Gosling drunkenly falls asleep listening to.
The farcical physicality of its comedy makes for a film that seamlessly integrates great verbal gags and absolutely absurd visuals. The propulsive action is consistently fueled by blind luck and the repetition of these stunts makes for an experience that hearkens back to the likes of Inspecteur Clouseau. This old school knack for visual comedy is also Black’s strongest asset, making for a wholly unique 2016 comedy. Shots are often composed in wider masters, allowing for the actors to dominate the playing field with their goofy antics. As such, every near death scenario is vividly captured and action sequences have an impressive velocity.
Three cheers to smog
Unfortunately the screenplay is where THE NICE GUYS does falter a little. Despite its fantastic execution, Black’s film often plays like a noir parody that isn’t exactly sure how seriously it wants to take itself. The incorporation of Gosling’s daughter character, played by Angourie Rice, works for comedic balancing, but doesn’t actually service the narrative in any direction other than catalyzing further instances of good or bad luck and awkwardly forcing a character arc out of Russell Crowe in the climax. Furthermore, her presence in dangerous scenarios often feels wildly unrealistic.
In addition, where the first act and third act succeed almost without fail, the second act is quite a lull in narrative development. While it certainly places further emphasis on just how fortunate its protagonists are again and again, character beats trying to refine relationships should have just continued being incorporated during the onscreen detective work. As they are now, they feel like filler. Gags, characters, and plot are all introduced as hyper-stylized caricatures, centering a murder mystery around the death of a porn star. But as the plot thickens, so do Black’s intentions, incorporating a rather serious socio-political commentary that would work well if played entirely for laughs, but instead comes off as a last-minute attempt to give its antagonist greater purpose.
This handjob scene could have been omitted as well
THE NICE GUYS isn’t as masterful a time warp as Paul Thomas Anderson’s INHERENT VICE, limiting much of its period action to the interiors of bars, hotels, and flashy vintage parties, but thanks to its commitment to rapid-fire gags, Black manages to distract his audience from the places where his film saved on production costs. Similar to Anderson’s film, THE NICE GUYS is heavily reliant on elements of luck and triviality, building entire scenes around micro-conflicts that hardly solve themselves through the absurdity of its drunken and clueless lead detectives.
Instead of going for the all-out comic nihilism of THE BIG LEBOWSKI or the ultra-serious CHINATOWN, Shane Black’s 2016 THE NICE GUYS finds itself opting for a WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? narrative middleground. While this doesn’t negatively effect the entertainment of the all-around experience, viewers will certainly leave scratching their heads regarding what the filmmakers were trying to tell them. However, if you can get past that awkward aftertaste, THE NICE GUYS might be some of the most raw fun you’ll have in the theatres this summer.