|'Black writes the pitter-patter dialogue of Buddy Comedy better than anyone and it's rare that you get a scene between the two leads which doesn't entertain solely on its own turns.'|
The Nice Guys is not Shane Black's best Buddy Comedy, but it says a lot about the quality of the film year to date that it is currently amongst 2016's best offerings.
The setup is familiar Black territory and, in fact, reads a little like a rewrite of his superior Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Two mismatched fixtures of the Los Angeles private enforcement world, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling), find themselves in the middle of something much bigger than either is equipped to handle when they take on the case of missing Amelia (Margaret Qualley) and become embroiled in the death of porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio).
As the film folds out it becomes clear that the plot hasn't been quite as neatly thought out as that of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and several holes and coincidences begin to appear that just about irritate enough to cause a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. Some are more glaring than others but by far the most problematic is that of the villain. The Nice Guys doesn't really have one. The antagonist hardly antagonises and doesn't appear until around the midway point. They're also absent from the final showdown, which ramps things up a little further than the film needed to go. Black has, in the years since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, directed a Marvel movie and it shows.
The joy of The Nice Guys though is in the Healy/March relationship, which anchors around the latter's daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). Black writes the pitter-patter dialogue of Buddy Comedy better than anyone and it's rare that you get a scene between the two which doesn't entertain solely on its own turns. A visit to a swish, LA hills, pornworld party, where March both gets drunk, makes a break through and nearly loses Holly is a highlight and, for once, there is a clear narrative reason why everyone is at the location and doing what they are doing.
There is also, as in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a glorious revelling in quite non-PC schlock. Some of what's here won't be to everyone's taste, but Black is careful to provide both balance and the sly critique which comes from both an acceptance of how things are and the perception of how very ridiculous that makes them. There's nothing here that's quite as accurate as the throwaway 'I'm in the movies' at the start of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but there is similar. It's refreshing to see a director interested enough in the origins of the genre he moves in to maintain what made it great (and occasionally not so great) in the process. The ludicrous opening scene is a case in point; it's about as respectful as its possible to be whilst still being overtly exploitative.
The fact that the plot doesn't work perhaps shows up the film's delusions of grandeur. There are thin echoes here of Chinatown, and a willingness to subvert expectations (watch for the unexpected event just before the finale), but the substance and refinement just isn't here to take the film further than that. There are too many loose ends, too many plot threads that wind up inconsequentially or go nowhere, though there is a lot of fun that takes place in the maelstrom.
The Nice Guys was playing on The Talk Talk TV Store.