Black back on familiar ground
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling might not sound like the most obvious comedy duo – but Shane Black doesn’t do obvious.
The director who made a neo-noir black comedy with Val Kilmer as a gay private investigator (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and controversially turned classic comic book villain The Mandarin into a drunk Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3 helms only his third movie following decades of script contributions for everything from Lethal Weapon to The Monster Squad.
This time around he travels back to 1970s Los Angeles for a comedy-crime caper with Crowe ( Jackson Healy) and Gosling (Holland March) playing a pair of private eyes investigating the apparent suicide of famous porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio).
Don’t go in expecting a full-on bromance, though. These two are at each others throats throughout in a prickly bond reminiscent of Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr’s in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
But don’t worry, the mismatched leads still provide plenty of laughs as Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi (making his feature film bow) throw everything from physical comedy and pratfalls to good old fashioned farce at the screen.
Crowe has never turned his hand to comedy before – unless you count his unintentionally hilarious crooning in Les Misérables – but his put-upon, throw punches-ask questions later enforcer belongs firmly within the genre.
Gosling is less of a funnybone-tickling novice (Crazy, Stupid, Love., this year’s The Big Short) so it’s perhaps no surprise that he just outshines his co-star, not least by displaying a real knack for physical comedy.
The phrase “a Shane Black movie” is often used among Hollywood circles and movie critics and The Nice Guys includes just about every one of the director’s trademarks.
There’s the two lead males, snappy dialogue, implausible-sounding scenarios grounded in reality, bursts of violence and – yes – a Christmas-set scene.
The over-familiarity may grate with some, but when you’re mixing this much emotional depth with laugh-out-loud escapades and colourful characters, it’s hard not to tip your hat to such a skilled auteur.
Black clearly knows his film noirs too and pays respect to the genre with hoodlums with a penchant for roughing people up, femme fatales and shady government officials.
He stays clear of completely desaturating his latest flick with literal and theoretical darkness, though, by making the most of its seventies setting, not least during a memorable porn party bathed in more colours than a box of tie-dye t-shirt.
The slightly overconvoluted plot does run out of steam and the conclusion teases a sequel that, given the rarity of Black stepping behind the camera, won’t see the light of day for years – if at all.
New buddies Crowe and Gosling have a ball back in the seventies