Shane Black returns to co-write and direct his third feature, this time taking the odd pairing of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe along for the ride. The success of Iron Man 3 has reinvigorated Black in terms of box-office appeal - and the talented writer once again hits all the right notes with this 1970s-set noir tale, even if the ticket sales may not reflect that.
Gosling is a washed-up private investigator in LA who has his arm broken by Crowe, a muscle-for-hire looking for more in his life while he earns a few bucks by giving people slaps. Attempting to solve a mystery involving a porn star and the involvement of a high-ranking government official's daughter, the two end up working together to try to solve the case. Naturally, this being a Shane Black flick, there's violence, nudity, action and superb dialogue a-plenty.
For anyone who hasn't seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, stop what you're doing and watch it immediately. That 2005 flick is an underrated modern classic that is endlessly entertaining, no matter how many times you watch it. The Nice Guys has a very similar, if retro-set vibe of two guys bouncing off each other in their attempt to figure out the case. In other hands, this might be sporadically entertaining; in Black's,the two leads just spark continuously off each other - and anyone else who happens to be sharing a scene with them. Angourie Rice, too, offers endless charm and sass as Gosling's older-than-her-years daughter.
Having said that, there is a chunk in the middle when the plot folds over on itself a little; you're trying to figure out what exactly is going on and the film feels like it's treading water. It's then that Black brings our guys to a Hollywood party and kicks things up a gear. From there on in, proceedings don't let up and it finishes with a sense of immoral charm and wit befitting the grubby characters.
Gosling is a revelation in terms of physical comedy. It's dumbfounding that this is the guy that barely speaks in Drive. He's funny, he still manages to look great and there's subtle hints of a good detective in there somewhere. Crowe, meanwhile, hasn't had this much fun in years; he's perfectly cast as brutish enforcer with a surprisingly sensitive side.
It's not quite at the level of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but this is still funny, entertaining stuff that will stand up well to repeat viewings.