The Nice Guys

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Watching The Nice Guys (2016) on an airplane bound for Colorado some years ago I remember thinking, “so this is the second draft of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005)”. Since Lethal Weapon (1987) Shane Black has been trying to perfect the buddy-cop comedy. Every iteration has its own unique character of course, but they are all different iterations of the same basic idea. Shane Black is clearly drawing on the likes of Dirty Harry (1971), Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and The Blue Night (1973) for material to satirize. Black’s relationship with these films and their ilk is akin to Airplane!‘s (1980) relationship to Airport (1970).

The Nice Guys is definitely Shane Black’s most realized vision in this genre. Unlike his other works, The Nice Guys is literally set in the seventies, so a certain milieu feels more comfortable and less like a narrative imposition. This also helps solve a lot of the issues that contemporary technology and politics present this type of film.

The titular “nice guys” are Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling); two gumshoes who end up pooling their resources to crack a big case. This mismatched casting actually works where films like Hollywood Homicide (2003) often fail. It’s pretty standard that the elder detective or cop be more competent, more masculine, and more in the vein of a Jeff Bailey-type. The younger man is always more feminine, sensitive, of his moment, and generally a goofball. Somehow Gosling manages to be an utterly silly person prone to slapstick misadventures who is still a serious character and not just an archetype. Likewise, Crowe manages to find something “fresh” in a part that has been played to death.

The Nice Guys isn’t revelatory or genius in its innovations, but it is funny. Black hasn’t written anything this in love with its own genre since Lethal Weapon, and it does work. For this kind of genre comedy to succeed the film must almost always come from a place of deep affection for the kind of film it’s satirizing. Much like Scream (1996), The Nice Guys is just as much fun as a genre flick as it is as a comedy.