Even if you’ve never heard the name of writer/director Shane Black before, chances are, you’ve seen at least one or two of his films. With a career that has spanned about 20 years, he has given us the screenplays to such films as “Lethal Weapon,” “The Monster Squad,” and “Last Action Hero. In 2005, he finally climbed into the director’s chair as well to deliver what has perhaps been his most popular film to date, the bizarre mystery-comedy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” For his latest project, “The Nice Guys,” he once again pulls double duty as director and co-writer to return to similar territory, except this time, he takes it back a few decades to spice things up a bit.
Taking place in 1977, the story follows two detectives, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling), whose cases end up intersecting. First, March is hired to locate a missing porn actress, but with her sudden death, he turns his attention to locating a young woman, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), he has been asked to track down. As it so happens, Healy has been hired by Amelia to stop others from following her, resulting in Healy giving a rather stern physical warning to March in order to get him off the case. However, when a pair of thugs tries to get her location from Healy, he changes his mind and decides to work with March to find her. As the investigation continues, they discover that she was involved in making a certain film with the recently-deceased porn actress, a film that could crack open a conspiracy that puts their lives in serious jeopardy.
As mentioned earlier, this is a return to somewhat similar subject matter that we’ve already seen Shane Black tackle in the past, but if there’s one thing we know about him, it’s that he handles this kind of material very well, with “The Nice Guys” being no exception. Once more we have a strange case to fill the story, populated with several colorful characters that immediately get your attention, both of which slowly but surely draw you into the seedy world that Black creates as the backdrop for his tale. It just so happens that this time he has chosen to take us back to the 70s to tell his story, which becomes an intriguing homage to not only buddy comedies, but also to the mystery films of the period.
A large part of what makes the film work so well is the incredible chemistry between the two leads, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. It’s doubtful that there are many out there who would have ever thought of such a pairing, especially given Crowe’s proclivity for taking on serious roles in films like “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Les Miserables.” However, we can be glad that someone did, because their scenes together come off as so incredibly natural that they only serve to help pull you into the story even more.
Of course, their individual performances must be singled out as well. In a surprising twist, it turns out that Russell Crowe is actually decent with comedy when given good material (this is in stark contrast to his recent stint on “Saturday Night Live.”). I don’t think we can expect this to become a regular thing for him, but it’s fascinating to watch him branch out and try something new after being known for his dramatic work all this time. As for Gosling, we already knew he could handle comedy quite well from films like “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” so the fact that he tackles the material here quite skillfully is no surprise.
If one had to point out any fault in the film, it would have to be its overlong runtime. The film runs for about two hours, but there didn’t really seem any need for it to be nearly that long, especially when it comes to the stretched-out action climax and the fact that there are several scenes that feel superfluous. Don’t get me wrong, for most of that time, it’s a rather engaging detective story, but it definitely could have been tighter and it would have flowed a little better because of it.
Even so, “The Nice Guys” remains a very entertaining film thanks to its excellent leads and a good helping of dark humor. It’s the kind of humor that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re open to it, you’ll probably get a few good laughs in the process. The film may not hit the heights of Shane Black’s previous foray into this genre, but there’s no denying that it has a lot of charm. It’s a fun mystery that will have you guessing for a decent part of the film, and while you might be able to see the ending coming from a mile away, it does nothing to hinder the amusing and exciting journey it takes to get there.
“The Nice Guys” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is crystal clear throughout the entire presentation, which does a fine job of highlighting the exquisite 70s period detail contained within. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is excellent as well, giving you all of the dialogue and the funky score in fantastic quality. Overall, the film has been given the best treatment possible, leaving you with a great experience in both areas.
Always Bet on Black (5 Minutes): A featurette that goes behind the scenes of the film with director/co-writer Shane Black and the cast.
Worst. Detectives. Ever.: Making The Nice Guys (6 Minutes): Another featurette that goes behind the scenes of the film with the cast and crew.
Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” is a splendid tribute to mystery films of the 70s, featuring a good dose of black humor and surprisingly great chemistry between leads Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. The film may be a little long at two hours, but for the most part, it remains exciting, compelling, and above all, entertaining as it goes about telling its delightfully strange and darkly comical tale.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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