Since the 80's Shane Black has been entertaining us with action, comedy and kidnapping as a plot device. Christmas, world-weary and damaged duos, Chandleresque narratives, smart-mouthed kids and even smarter dialogue.
The Nice Guys holds tight to the formula that's kept us turning up all these years, but subverts it just a little.
Set in the slightly seedy 70's, where the American Dream was beginning it's swan song. The unlikely partners have the archetypes switched out. Russel Crowe's Jackson Healy may be the world weary one, but he's trying to stay sober and better himself - paid enforcer rather than gum shoe. Where, although the genuine Private Detective here, Ryan Gosling's Holland March can't seem to keep it together. The dynamic is more Last Boy Scout than it is Lethal Weapon; where a pervading disdain and annoyance results is scathing sarcasm and shut-downs when the two parlay. Crowe's tired tough guy bouncing off the jittering goon of Gosling.
The story itself is very much Chandler inspired in that it's over-complex, but it really works for the film. What always turns out to be simplest explanation in these noir-ish odysseys, is made overly complex by the protagonists. They don't have a clue what's going on and as they discover the jumbled pieces in the wrong order, neither do the audience. It makes for a fun ride. Not only are you kept occupied with what's going on, but the ensuing hilarity of the bumbling main characters is more than amusing.
Where Shane Black excels is in making the characters familiar to you relatively soon in the story. The gags and mistakes are made all the funnier when you know what they're going to do in a situation. What tips it over the edge is when they have more of a reaction than you'd thought. Although the humor hits the target more than it mis-fires, it does sometimes mean that some jokes are overworked. March's grissly discovery in the woods starts off with nudging hilarity only to have the laughs squeezed out of it by going on too long.
Amongst all the fireworks and perfectly timed japes, it could be easy to miss that the film actually has some real heart. As juxtaposed as our duo are, they rub off on one another and begin to shave off their edges. A true partnership starts to form, in spite of their original disliking for one another and their exasperating character traits. The two deservedly get two, full and very satisfying arcs, leaving them changed for the better, but not by diluting what makes them fun to watch.
3* - Kiss, Kiss Boy Scout