With Lethal Weapon, almost thirty years ago now, Shane Black practically invented the mismatched buddy formula that’s stood ever since. He infused the oblique conspiracies and terse dialogue of someone like Chandler with modern doses of vulnerable masculinity, elaborate profanity, and ugly violence, all of which he uses to redeem his lovable but seriously damaged and occasionally borderline incompetent losers. The Nice Guys shows that along with his many imitators, Black’s not too interested in meddling with that formula. Aside from the 1977 setting and the simple details of the mystery, this is a very pleasing recapitulation of all of his thematic and narrative tics, and basically a do-over on 1991’s The Last Boy Scout only, well, nicer. Swap out that film’s corrupt sports industry for this one’s corrupt auto industry and you still have two washed up heroes getting the shit beat out of them as they try to avenge a dead girl. Guy falling into a swimming pool? Check. Precocious daughter along for the ride? Yep. Scary bad guy henchman? Matt Bomer. Nice Guys amiably dials down Scout‘s rampant misogyny for a slightly sweeter (or at least more palatable) brand of paternalistic sexism, and the violence isn’t quite so nasty, but they’re essentially the same wildly entertaining film, bemoaning a world increasingly poisoned by modernism and a lack of simple (well, relative anyway) moral goodness. Black’s scripts are heavily dependent on the chemistry of their leads, and here you’ve got Russell Crowe in his funny fat mode, playing a total psychopath who breaks peoples’ arms for a living, and Ryan Gosling doing his hot weirdo thing as a shitty PI drowning in booze. And though it lacks the constant autocritique of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s still full of hilarious motormouths and shot through with doses of bizarro humor (look out for the Nixon cameo). The Nice Guys is probably a richer experience for an audience familiar with Black’s idiosyncrasies, but on the other hand they don’t appear in danger of going out of style.
Blockbuster Beat• by Matt Lynch• Film