Shane Black knows his way around kick ass action flicks injected with humor – much of it loaded with profanity, kids in danger, and booze and cigarettes. This is the man who wrote Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Fans of Black can spot the rhythm of his screenplays a mile away. I suspect, by the way, that Quentin Tarantino was influenced by some of Black’s beats for his later compositions.
In 2005, he directed his first feature, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was an often hilariously trippy private eye tale for the ages and truly ushered in the comeback of one Robert Downey Jr. (with a glorious Val Kilmer at his side). The Nice Guys puts the auteur right back in Bang Bang territory after a nice excursion into blockbuster land with 2010’s Iron Man 3.
For admirers who have gobbled up Black’s words over the past three decades, this is a return to form that doesn’t quite match his finest work. Yet it’s satisfying nonetheless and contains some real laugh out loud moments. This is a buddy flick that would’ve been right at home being made in the 1980s, but it’s set in 1977 Los Angeles. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are both private eyes. Neither is exceptionally bright and in true Black fashion, Gosling’s teenage daughter is often the smartest person in the room. Crowe is more an enforcer who transacts business through broken bones. Gosling is more of a con artist.
The pair become embroiled in a dense plot that involves murdered porn stars, an endangered porn actress whose Mom (Kim Basinger) runs the Justice Department, and an assortment of goons and henchman who would be right at home tormenting Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans in Last Boy Scout. The plot is secondary in these proceedings to the dialogue.
Black revels in these shady characters who occasionally experience flashes of humanity. Not too much though and that’s what we kind of hope for and expect. One character gives up his years long sobriety by our conclusion and it’s practically treated as a moment of valor. I wouldn’t have it any other way from the guy behind the camera and typewriter (he probably doesn’t use a typewriter anymore, but I prefer to believe otherwise).
Crowe and Gosling seem to be having a ball, too. Matt Bomer stands out as the most memorable henchman in a pic filled with disposable ones. There were more lines and setups that killed in Kiss Kiss to put it on another level from this. There’s more than enough of that bloody Black humor to make this worthwhile, including the most unexpected use of Richard Nixon since at least Point Break.
*** (out of four)