Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the film of the summer.
Holland March: “Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.”
Jackson Healy: “People got hurt.”
Holland March: “I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.”
Writer and director Shane Black has come a long way and if you’ve never heard of him, then shame on you! Only kidding, but seriously he’s responsible for films you immediately will know – Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Last Kiss Goodnight and Last Action Hero are just a few notable and recognisable examples. His latest project is The Nice Guys, a 70s comedy adventure starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.
With outrageous situations and sharp dialogue, Shane Black is someone who has perfected the buddy cop formula and in The Nice Guys it’s an absolute blast.
Some may feel disappointed with The Nice Guys if you’re familiar with Shane Black’s trademark humour. He’s not exactly re-inventing the wheel or stretching the imagination by offering something new. The plot is relatively simple and at times can border on being slightly overstuffed. But in an age where comic book superheroes, sequels and reboots are dominating our cinema landscape, The Nice Guys breaks the mould and offers a genuine alternative. Not only is it the best film of the summer so far, but would rank it highly enough to be contender as one of the best films of the year.
From an aesthetic point of view, The Nice Guys is pleasing on the eye, taking a nostalgic look at the 1970s. But the film doesn’t glamorize the time period.
Set in Los Angeles 1977, forget the introduction of Star Wars and say hello to a seedy underbelly involving pornography, protests, politics and corruption. Whilst that represents the bigger picture, it’s the small details that are impressive. The 70s soundtrack is so addictive that it suddenly becomes your latest Spotify playlist. The film highlights Tower Records or the poster for Jaws 2 – a forgotten throwback of yesteryear. And just like classic 70s detective shows like Columbo, Kojak or The Streets of San Francisco, The Nice Guys serves as a faithful homage, right down to the trademark voiceovers.
It’s like stepping back in time without the use of the DeLorean!
Holly: [At party] “Dad, there are whores here n’stuff.”
Holland March: “Don’t say n’stuff. Just say, Dad, there are whores here.”
But the greatest strength from The Nice Guys is its humour – otherwise why would you watch this film! It’s obviously designed to make you laugh but there’s a speciality in the way Shane Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi executes it.
It doesn’t rely on crude humour or vulgarity. It doesn’t try to shock you or overwhelm you by throwing everything but the kitchen sink in a forced attempt for a joke. If you’ve watched Dirty Grandpa, you will know exactly what I’m talking about and why that type of humour was wrong and horribly ineffective.
Smart and humorous dialogue – that’s what makes The Nice Guys effective. But you also get an added bonus that’s easy to visualise but hard to execute. Not all comedies succeed with this goal because this film becomes an exercise in comedic timing.
Timing occurs on two fronts.
The first is the dynamic partnership. If you’re a fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, then The Nice Guys is in good company.
There’s a familiarity in the buddy cop formula – two characters paired with each other with contrasting personalities. In The Nice Guys we’re introduced to Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), private eye detectives who have been assigned to find a missing girl – Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley). At first they start off as enemies, Healy inflicting pain (and a broken arm) on March for his pursuit of the girl. But when the conspiracy takes a weird turn which links back to Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), her mother who also happens to work for the Department of Justice, they both soon realise they’re in over their heads.
March and Healy are self-serving detectives which is the main reason why the dynamic works. March “pretends” to be working in order to get more money out of his clients – that’s how he survives. He also can’t control his drinking which also lands him into trouble. Healy is pretty much a lone wolf enforcer and often uses violence to get his message across.
Russell Crowe is brilliant as Jackson Healy. His deadpan humour and physicality is the complete opposite from March’s soft-centred nature. It reminded me a lot of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. He’s a character that says what he means and he means what he says. He’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty. He is trying to change and his relationship with March’s daughter, Holly humanizes him so he doesn’t end up being a soulless killing machine.
But there is a third wheel dynamic which might go unnoticed and that’s in the shape of Holly (Angourie Rice). While Healy/March argue over their insecurities, Holly makes herself part of the investigation and unofficially becomes the smartest cop in the room. Based on her intervention by being in the right place at the wrong time, she’s able to lead Healy/March in the right direction, using her smarts and sassy behaviour. She’s not afraid at being honest and blunt towards her father and she even drives him around! Not bad for a teenager.
The second is the visual comedy and this is where star performer Ryan Gosling shines. I mean…who knew he could be so funny!
Now I’m not exactly saying “Ryan Gosling is the next so and so” but his charming style of delivery and physical comedy is akin to the likes of Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. With March’s scenes in particular, The Nice Guys operates like a silent movie, using visual set ups and gags to make the joke worthwhile. The audience is clued in on the joke first and then the actors are the last to know. There’s a brilliant moment where March starts smoking, his cigarette lighter illuminates the scene, unaware that he’s sitting next to a dead body. The set up happens twice – once to establish it, twice – for Gosling to react to it and his reaction is as good as Stan Laurel from Laurel and Hardy. The same style happens again when March tries to break into a building by smashing a window. It takes an unexpected turn when he faints at the sight of his own blood! Once again, the set up occurs twice.
This type of execution is what made Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin so successful. They thrived on this type of humour and why people like Jackie Chan have followed in their footsteps. Like performing a dance, it takes skill in taking something mundane and ordinary and making it a big deal. Gosling excels because of this.
Comedic timing is everything because it follows a confident and energetic rhythm. That rhythm helps not only to establish the joke but also how characters react to it. It helps the audience to connect and sympathise with them, hence why we laugh at the hilarity of a situation. Beat too fast and the moment and the joke is lost.
Recent comedies I’ve seen like Dirty Grandpa and even to a certain extent Ant-Man, lose that timing by rushing, either by forcing jokes that don’t feel organic or simply not allowing that moment to breathe. That’s why I found them problematic. Trust me on this, it’s like chalk and cheese when you compare the comedic timing from The Nice Guys to the examples I mentioned. Whether he’s making a silly face or noise or falling through stuff, Gosling’s timing perfectly compliments Crowe’s brute force behaviour. That’s why this film stands head and shoulders above the rest and why it wins.
If the film suffers any weakness then it comes down to the plot when connecting the dots between Amelia and the porn star actress at the beginning of the film. But then again, as March’s daughter says, they are the world’s worst detectives! That’s my excuse.
But also The Nice Guys works if you’ve never seen any of the trailers. Sadly some of the best jokes are in there. It doesn’t take away how brilliant the film is but it does slightly spoil the surprise.
If you’re looking for a good laugh, I urge you to go and experience The Nice Guys. The Crowe/Gosling partnership ensures you’ll have a great time, especially if you’re looking for something different to watch at the cinema.
I can’t wait for Shane Black’s next project which happens to be the next Predator film. Given how Christmas always features in his films, it makes you wonder whether The Predator will be set near the North Pole!