The Nice Guys (2016)

Director : Shane Black

Writer : Shane Black & Anthony Bargozzi

Just as in the original Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys starts with a topless woman dying. This is either Shane Black paying homage to himself or he just likes combining boobs with cars and death. Either way, it kicks things off with a slightly tasteless vibe that the film doesn’t entirely shake. 

Black has made a career out of mismatched buddy action/comedies and the Crowe/Gosling combination is his latest effort. When Crowe steps into shot with his bulk barely contained in a blue leather jacket, the attempt at maximum differentiation between he and the svelte Gosling is clear. If there's a six pack under there, it looks most likely to have been consumed before breakfast.

There is a rich vein of violence that runs through Russell Crowes best performances and the absence of it leads to films soon forgotten. Bursting onto the international scene as Bud White in LA Confidential (1997), he successfully re-directed Hando’s rage into the conflicted but ultimately heroic LA cop. The violence was front and centre again in Gladiator (2000), but since American Gangster and 3:10 to Yuma (both 2007) , his roles have been either mis-steps or mis-castings. Too old for Robin Hood (2010), and out of place and tune in Les Miserables (2012), even his attempt at an everyman in The Next Three Days (2010) was betrayed by the knowledge that Crowe the man was more prone to violence than the character he portrayed.

Master and Commander (2003) should probably have kicked off a franchise, but despite the quality of production, it failed to resonate with the audience, meaning that Crowe’s career has lacked the spine that should have carried him through the last fifteen years. So now in 2016, Rusty needs a hit.

Ryan Gosling is in no such need of resurrection. At 35, he is at his movie star prime. Breaking mainstream in the Notebook (2004), he immediately sidestepped the genre by going druggo in Half Nelson (2006) and weirdo in Lars and the Real Girl (2007). But despite making it difficult for his fans, he never alienated them. He is always the best thing in a movie and often surpasses the material. And he has range, following up the near silent head stomper in Drive (2010) with a fast talking manhood mentor for a middle aged man in Crazy Stupid Love (2011).

How Crowe and Gosling get together and what they do once they have is less important than their banter. The script is most comfortable when these two are talking and everything else, including the plot, is purely garnish. Even mentioning that it set in LA in 1977 seems superfluous.

Crowe dials down his usual intensity but never plays it straight for laughs. Gosling on the other hand goes full clown, switching between Maxwell Smart and Buster Keaton and it’s an impressive combination. The look he gives the bar tender when he’s told that it’s free drinks is brilliant and no-one has ever been so funny in a toilet stall.

While the initial two Lethal Weapon movies were action movies with a comedic bent, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang shifted a little further down the comedy continuum and the Nice Guys slides even further. But it delivers exactly what it sets out to, providing many laughs, and everyone involved seems to be having a great time.

Worth Watching