What do you think of when you hear the name Shane Black? If you’re in the know, as I pretend to be, you likely think of two or more clever-by-half characters exchanging shuriken-like witticisms against a backdrop of intrigue and mayhem.
When I heard Black’s name in conjunction with the those of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, my heart nearly skipped a beat. There’s no reason why The Nice Guys—with it’s talented writer/director, cast, and setup—shouldn’t have knocked it out of the park. Instead, the final product is a disappointing and painfully meandering reminder of what could have been.
At around the ten-minute mark, it becomes glaringly obvious that Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi didn’t really believe that the audience would be on board for a straight detective story, at which point they decided it would be a good idea to toss in scrips and scraps from vastly different genres, torpedoing the tone and pulverizing the pacing in the process.
What am I to make of a light-hearted buddy-cop flick with some genuine intrigue at its core which suddenly becomes an all-out slapstick farce, which in turn becomes a dull-as-dishwater action shooter?
It’s a testament to the film’s bizarre lack of focus when a tightly focused detective flick soon spirals out of control by the second act. While it’s clear that Black really loves these characters, I can’t help but find it strange that such a seasoned veteran couldn’t maintain the objectivity needed to see that the story was falling apart right under his nose.
But perhaps there’s some author insight to be found in an interview with SlashFilm in which he states:
“And taken as a whole, the sort of sea of private eye literature in all its forms, from the sort of swinging dick, veiny private eye, to the more serious stuff, it encompasses 30 years of literature, which I have access to. I have every book. I’ve collected everything that I could find. And so, I just pick and choose the little bits and pieces that have assembled in my head.”
I commend your enthusiasm, Mr. Black, but question your restraint. Somehow I can just picture Black and Bagarozzi excitedly bouncing ideas off each other across a writing table littered with beer bottles, cramming in whatever sounds good and gets a laugh out of the other.
Apart from the glaringly out of place and inexplicably boring gun battles (which I’ll get back to), one of my main problems with the story is the little girl character. In context, the girl is meant to be Gosling’s daughter, presumably there to give him some kind of investment in solving the case successfully without getting killed, but for some weird reason they keep making her tag along during the actual detecting.
Now, I totally get that it’s supposed to be a sly subversion, because normally the detectives would be joined in the field by some kind of bodacious exotic lady, but it’s really apparent that the writers had to keep finding things for her to do by the second act.
To make matters worse, the moments when the movie actually shines come when Gosling and Crow get to play off of one another without interruption, but it’s frustrating to have them broken up every few seconds by a needy brat.
And while I’m on the subject, what, exactly, is the girl’s personality supposed to be? Is she a delicate flower mourning the death of her mother and lamenting the subsequent fracturing of her family, or is she a sarcastic teen who has nothing but contempt for her bumbling detective father. And don’t say that it’s “complexity” either, because you and I can both tell the difference between a nuanced character and a poorly written one.
So the supporting characters aren’t great, but what really put the nail in the coffin for me came at the beginning of the third act when our two heroes basically have the entire dumb conspiracy explained to them by a character we had never met until that moment. I hung my head and rolled my eyes at the same time.
And then it turns into an action movie for the last thirty minutes as our dynamic duo races to stop the perpetrators of the…whatever. I kinda lost the will to live trying to remember how this thing ends.
So I guess we have to return to those shootouts I mentioned earlier.
I mean, imagine what a gun fight would look like if you asked an emotionless computer program to choreograph it. It’s about the same level, if not marginally worse, than the action in Michael Mann’s Blackhat, although that might be a wasted reference because I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in the world who actually saw that movie.
And then, weirdly, Gosling’s character declares something to the effect of “I can’t believe it! I actually think I might be invincible!” And then I waited for the punch line when he would immediately get shot in the leg or smash his head on something; but no, he just continues to fire his gun and chase after the bad guy in a slightly more masculine and confident way.
So long, dramatic tension.
What the hell is the point—in a narrative sense, I mean—in having a gun fight during which we know that there’s absolutely zero chance of the characters getting injured or killed. I guess by that point we were just killing time, and everyone knew it.
Despite my railing against the grab-bag of a plot and some pretty uninspired supporting characters, there’s still a bit of the old Shane Black charm shining through. Gosling and Crowe really seemed to enjoy working on the project, and their enthusiasm translates to the audience. Dialogue between the two is mostly pretty strong with only a few odd gags here or there falling flat. Add to that a really cool 70s aesthetic and groovy soundtrack which make it pretty hard to frown.
Still though, if The Nice Guys were an apple, I think the core is still fundamentally rotten, and even if you dip it in caramel and sprinkles, it’s still going to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5