THE FILM 4.5/5
“You are the world’s worst detective.”
Set in 1970s Los Angeles, down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a porn star. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power.
Studios and audiences like to throw around the term “event movie” a lot. These titles are usually reserved for big, tentpole pictures attached either to a preexisting film franchise, or a popular book (or series of books). Naturally the very big titles like Star Wars comes to mind, which is back in a big way following the purchase of LucasFilm by Disney. But look to the summer for an array of comic book heroes (and villains), giant transforming robots, or bald manly men driving both fast and furiously. In the midst of all that noise and fanfare, we often miss the real event, as many did this past summer when Shane Black, probably the most distinctively voiced and superhumanly talented screenwriter (and somewhat recently, director), released his third film as both writer and director.
It starred Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, and somehow, audiences didn’t care. That, or they didn’t know.
And that’s a goddamn shame.
Shane Black has been in the game for thirty years, having written action films celebrated (Lethal Weapon), not so celebrated (The Last Boy Scout), the extremely underrated (Last Action Hero; The Long Kiss Goodnight), and even doing script doctor work on some of your favorite classics (Predator). Fucking guy even wrote The Monster Squad. I mean, give me a break–what a résumé.
In 2005, when he paired up with producer Joel Silver to write and direct Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, not only was it a welcome return for the filmmaker who had been in limbo for nearly the last decade, but it was a somewhat radical departure, venturing far out of the high-concept, low-brains kind of action fare for which he’d made a decent living, instead crafting a hard-boiled film noir story inspired by pulp novels from the 1950s–combined with that lovable and infectious style of biting Shane Black dialogue that very few are capable of writing. Nearly every line of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is quotable to this day, helped by the on-screen chemistry between its likable leads–Robert Downey Jr., the beginning of his successful return, and Val Kilmer, who hasn’t been relevant since.
The Nice Guys is cut from that same cloth, featuring another pair of well-matched leading men (Russell Crowe as the straight-edged, walking mess of a brute enforcer, and Ryan Gosling as the suave but drunken, somewhat incompetent private detective). Like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, their characters of March and Healy are forced to team up to solve a very complicated mystery, this one involving an adult film star who or may not be dead, following their first introduction during which of one of their fists landed on another of their faces. (You can guess who was the hitter and who was the hittee.) Set up almost like a spiritual prequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Nice Guys is a showcase for Shane Black doing what he does best: straddling that line between sarcastic, rapid-fire humor with moments of legitimate sincerity that tug at the ol’ heartstrings. Much of this latter mileage is obtained through March’s relationship with his too-mature daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who inserts herself into the investigation in hopes of providing just enough assistance that she can help her father solve the case, thus proving to himself that he’s not “the world’s worst detective.”
The Nice Guys more than satisfies that faction of the audience out there who know Shane Black and appreciate his dry, quit-witted style. Comparisons are often inevitable when dealing with two or more similar concepts, especially when birthed from the same writer/director, but it would be wrong to say which is the victor between Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. What can be said is that the on-screen chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is impeccably rendered, perhaps even more than Downey Jr. and Kilmer, who still make for one of the great on-screen pairings. Neither Gosling or Crowe have previously done a comedy so specifically quirky like this, and it’s a joy to see both of them fully commit themselves to these characters–especially for Crowe, whose prickly and too-honest off-screen personality has hindered what kinds of roles studios can picture him in.
Shane Black mentions in the supplements having loose ideas for sequels to The Nice Guys, and being what kind of genre to which it belongs, that’s not such a far-fetched notion. And likewise, the critics have spoken…but the audiences haven’t, and when it comes to events, that might just be the saddest of them all.
THE PICTURE 4/5
Shane Black has shot a ’70s-set and inspired film, but the picture smacks of a modern shoot, and the blu-ray presentation is all the better for it. The version of Los Angeles that (maybe?) exists only in Black’s view of it is highly pretentious, almost storybook, and with it comes a lot of comic book colors, neon, and other non-real world environments. It also makes for a very attractive picture. Textures easily pop, like Crowe’s weathered and unshaven face. A variety of environments are explored, from dingy bowling alley bathrooms, over-the-bar apartments, bright exteriors, and ritzy hotels and ballrooms, all boasting their own lighting schemes, but the blu-ray presents it all absolutely effectively.
THE SOUND 4.5/5
Even better than the picture is this pretty excellent audio presentation. The 5.1 brings these Nice Guys to life with a very dynamic and thorough audioscape. Dialogue never suffers a single dropped or muffled word, even with the presence of a very eclectic soundtrack (with accompanying musical score by John Ottman & David Buckley). Much of the humor of the film relies on the sound design–landing punches, drunken men tumbling down hills, bathroom stall doors being slammed repeatedly–and the audio presentation faithfully preserves it all.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 2/5
All told, the two included features comprise about twelve minutes of supplementary content. “Always Bet on Black” runs a little over five minutes and focuses on The Nice Guys‘ cast (and producer Joel Silver) talking about how awesome Shane Black is, which is pretty much common knowledge at this point. “Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making The Nice Guys” runs a bit over six minutes and focuses on the making of the film, including early carnations (it was almost a television series) and just how long the script had been kicking around Hollywood before it was finally made.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
— Always Bet On Black
— Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making The Nice Guys
STUDIO: Silver Pictures/Warner Bros.
DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
THEATRICAL DATE: May 20, 2016
VIDEO STREET DATE: August 23, 2016
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 2.39:1
AUDIO: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spoken-Word Description Track)
SUBTITLES: English; French; Spanish
RUN TIME: 116 mins
DVD COPY: Included
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Ultraviolet
When it comes to comedy screenwriters/directors who have their own clear, distinct, and easily recognizable voice, let me just say: if Shane Black released films as frequently as Woody Allen, the world would be a much better place. Though it’s only been three years since Black gave us Iron Man 3, it’s been a staggering decade since the film previous to that, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, was released–and that’s the only kind of Shane Black film that truly matters.
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