Shane Black is Back. Same Formula, New Era
DIRECTOR: SHANE BLACK/2016
Shane Black is back with The Nice Guys, his first film since Iron Man 3 and the first film that he has had complete creative control over since his 2005 masterpiece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black knows better than to veer away from the style that made him famous in the 80s, the buddy-cop/investigator film.
This time, Black goes back to the 70s to relive his 80s glory-days with Russell Crowe playing the calm, tough guy Jackson Healy. An enforcer who is hired to beat the crap out of people who are doing things they shouldn’t be doing. Sometimes it’s fun watch, like when he punches around a pedophile with a pair of brass knuckles. And sometimes it’s not so fun, like when he attacks and breaks the arm of the loveable Holland March (Ryan Gosling), telling him to stay away from a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, playing the character with the same teary eyed intensity as her character on the show The Leftovers).
This movie is very reminiscent of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Two guys who only sort of like each other are in something that has them way over their heads. They are both used to being kings of their own little hills, but not this time. And when it hits the fan, they are too stupid to back away, and decide to rise to the occasion to take on what they don’t realize should easily crush them, in this case the US government and the Justice Department.
So why does The Nice Guys feel like a step back from “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”?
Part of the problem is Crowe. He just cannot carry a funny scene and has a delivery that he would probably explain as being understated, but just feels lazy. He cannot hold his end the same way Val Kilmer can (that sounds pathetic when said out loud) or the Danny Glover/Nick Nolte incarnation of his character in the 80s.
But some of the problem lies on Black. What made Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang so brilliant wasn’t just the humor, though it was outrageously funny, but also the biting anger behind the film. Black had a bone to pick with LA in that film and the whole movie doubled as a screw you to the industry, with its casting of then washed-up actors Robert Downey Jr, Kilmer and Corbin Bernsen, to the nasty view of LA to the usage of every lazy cliché the industry has been turning out and flipping it on its head.
This time around you remove the anger and what you have is more of a straight comedy that feels a tad more empty.
But that isn’t a complete condemnation of the movie. And this shouldn’t be a comparison to some underseen masterpiece from over 10 years ago but rather a comparison to other movies coming out this season. So what saves the movie is Ryan Gosling’s outstanding performance as March, a character who has the strength of the snappy delivery of a 50’ style hardboiled detective and the physical comedy of a silent film star. And March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) almost steals the movie as the innocent moral center who keeps both March and Healy in place, reminding them how terrible it is to kill someone, shaming them when they don’t listen and constantly asking them if they are good people.
She represents a sentimental and sweet move in the otherwise cynical career of Shane Black which could possibly indicate a step forward that is just momentarily recognized as a step back.