"The Nice Guys" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime: 116 minutes
Written & Directed by Shane Black
Review by: JJ Mortimer
Director Shane Black delivers his expected crackling dialogue and humorous characterizations, but despite the great chemistry and sharp performances from stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, Black's script falls under its own convoluted weight by stuffing the audience with too much information instead of giving us time to absorb what fun we have with the two main leads.
Now, I'm a huge fan of Shane Black the writer. He has proven time and time again to be a master of character development and dialogue, usually driving the audience's attention to a duo of main characters with an allowance of improvisation and catchphrase-worthy lines. The man has come up with a handful of some of the best action movie scripts from the 80s and 90s (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boyscout, The Long Kiss Goodnight), as well as being responsible for almost single-handedly reinventing (and mastering) the "buddy cop" cliche. Riggs and Murtaugh are his babies. But as a film director, Black hasn't quite found his footing.
Off the bat I really enjoyed The Nice Guys. I loved the 70s setting and the pace early on, as well as the violent and hilarious introduction of both main characters in their particular situations. The first act is where the film is the strongest, building the hard-edged but humorous mood and the witty banter between both men, as Russell Crowe's character hires Ryan Gosling to help with a detective job, despite just having beat the shit out of him the day before.
Where the film fell apart a bit for me isn't in the initial film making process per say, but in director Shane Black's insistence upon jamming too much story into such a small film. Where The Nice Guys could have benefited from being more centered on character moments (in my opinion), it instead clobbers us over the head with twists and developments that ask the audience to care about something other than the characters we've already quickly grown to love and enjoy, in turn taking the early established flow and energy away from what we were groomed to focus on from minute one.
As the story goes on and we learn who is involved in the case and how high up the political and ecological ranks it goes, I lost a bit of interest and tried instead to focus on the comedic banter between Crowe and Gosling, only to find that many of those moments were overshadowed by Black's convoluted narrative.
If The Nice Guys were a ten-part miniseries with Shane Black writing in his lighter-hearted True Detective style with a 70s vibe, the narrative would shine. Our main leads would also be given more time to flesh out their partnership and their backstories - things that the film grazes upon but never quite bites down on. There are a lot of buildups with little payoffs in this film, which hopefully isn't the reason as to why the film hints at a sequel in order to give us more about the characters.
Again, Shane Black succeeds in giving us two more great characters in the echelon of his film making career, but because he overfills his script with too much story than it's near two-hour run time can manage, The Nice Guys delivers less of what we want to see and too much of what we aren't given enough time to care about. And besides, who doesn't want to see Russell Crowe break more arms and crack more skulls?