I have long considered Shane Black to be among the most exhilarating, yet underutilized filmmakers in Hollywood - his pictures, even when he's just serving as screenwriter, have an electricity and passion behind them that is so palpable. Yes, the Lethal Weapon pictures, which he wrote, are tons of fun, but I'm even more fond of the less financially successful efforts, thrilling pictures like the Geena Davis-Samuel L. Jackson vehicle The Long Kiss Goodnight, the unlikely Bruce Willis-Damon Wayans starrer The Last Boy Scout and, one of my very favorites growing up, the funny and frightening The Monster Squad. And of course, there's Black's directorial debut, the terrific Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. You can just tell from these pictures how much affection for and knowledge of cinema Black has - he brings so much talent and enthusiasm to the table.
Black's latest film, The Nice Guys, is the both funniest and most thrilling film released thus far in 2016. It had me from the get-go, with the vintage '70s Warner Bros. logo, and proved an immensely enjoyable ride from start to finish, perhaps at least a bit of a surprise for me, given I'm not always the biggest fan of either of the film's stars, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Both, however, are dynamite here.
In the picture, set in 1977 Los Angeles, Gosling portrays Holland March, an unhappy, alcoholic P.I., recently widowed and getting the bulk of his business from forgetful old ladies in the neighborhood - only the presence of his daughter Holly (the wonderful, scene-stealing Angourie Rice) seems to provide March a reason to get out of the bathtub in the morning. Crowe is Jackson Healy, a middle-aged hired enforcer who can still kick some ass with his brass knuckles but otherwise too isn't getting a whole lot out of life.
Lo and behold, things get awfully interesting fast for March and Healy (and Holly too), as their paths cross on the heels of the mysterious disappearance of Amelia (Margaret Qualley), a girl with ties to the porn industry, anti-smog movement and even the U.S. Department of Justice. While on the hunt for Amelia, things get all the more exciting for March and Healy with the entrance of thugs portrayed by Beau Knapp (looking like a creepy '70s Phil Spector) and Keith David, plus an artillery-loaded hitman psychopath who goes by the name John Boy (Matt Bomer). All of this cumulates in an epic finale set at, of all places, the Los Angeles Auto Show.
The Nice Guys is a very funny film - Gosling and Crowe are arguably an even stronger match than the likes of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover - but what impressed me even more here is just how intensely exciting the action set pieces are. The finale is marvelous but I think I loved the extended sequence toward the middle of the film, set at the mansion of a famed porn producer, even more. Black sure knows how to orchestrate this stuff beautifully. And I'm not sure I've ever seen an actor fly (or, in this case, mostly stumble) through as much glass as Gosling does here. These are two truly great physical, comic performances, surely worthy of at least Golden Globe consideration come the year's end.
In terms of quibbles about the film, I can't come up with a whole lot, other than to maybe say it was great to see Kim Basinger show up (portraying Amelia's mother, who may or may not have her daughter's best interests at heart), in a mini-reunion with L.A. Confidential co-star Crowe, and then kind of disheartening to see her given very little to do. But really, that's a pretty minor negative. The Nice Guys is a must-see for anyone who seeks a good laugh or thrill, which, I hope, would be everyone.