The Nice Guys is a hilarious, original comedy thriller – unless you’ve already seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
A lovable fuck up and a hard ass professional team up to solve a murder. Hard boiled dialogue and slapstick violence ensue. Sound familiar? That’s because Shane Black’s 70’s set comedy thriller The Nice Guys is almost identical to his 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. As often funny and exciting as The Nice Guys is, it never quite shakes off the feeling of diminishing returns.
After an enigmatic opening in which a porn star crashes into a teenage boy’s bedroom, we’re introduced to our titular heroes. Paid by missing Amelia to intimidate a private eye looking for her, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) beats down Holland March, a shambolic alcoholic played by Ryan Gosling. Thinking his work is done, Healy returns home where he is attacked by thugs, also looking for Amelia. Soon, Healy and March, and March’s teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, a star in the making), team to take on porn producers and corrupt Department of Justice officials (Kim Basinger) whilst searching for Amelia and a missing film reel.
It’s almost impossible not to compare The Nice Guys to Black’s previous, better noir comedy. Like Robert Downey Jnr. and Val Kilmer before them, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have an easy-going chemistry, nailing the roles of well-intentioned moron and world-weary wise ass. Crowe is just self-aware enough as the deadpan enforcer, demonstrating previously-unseen comedic chops. Gosling, however, steals the show as the world’s worst detective, first seen nearly killing himself during an investigation. With a permanent outfit of Hawaiian shirt, cigarette, and cast on his arm, Gosling is riotous, and it’s nice to see him go all-out goofball.
Though 15-year-old Angourie Rice gives a very capable comedy performance as Gosling’s daughter, she’s addled with the irritating role of wise-beyond-her-years teenager; Holly is too cute and hits too many emotional beats, slowing the film down so she can have multiple heart-to-hearts with Healy. This is a recurring problem throughout the film. Though Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had a nigh-on incomprehensible mystery at its heart, the plot mostly served to pair up Downey Jnr.’s Harry Lockhart with Kilmer’s Gay Perry so they could trade barbs. The Nice Guys keeps introducing more and more characters and elements, focusing on story exposition instead of jokes.
Thankfully, The Nice Guys still has plenty of big laughs. Once known as Hollywood’s sharpest scriptwriter, Shane Black always delivers hilarious banter and big set pieces. Crowe and Gosling’s fast paced rapport brings plenty of solid one liners, especially Gosling’s moronic quips (“You know who else was just following orders? Adolf Hitler”), while the second half slides into more slapstick affair, highlighted by Holland’s failure to pass Healy his gun.
Though the plot is baffling and the screenplay weighed down by too many characters and twists, The Nice Guys is never less than fast paced fun. However, it all feels dangerously close to self-plagiarism. While The Nice Guys is entertaining and well worth a watch, fans of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang may experience déjà vu.
By Harry J. Ford
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