Shane Black’s 2005 pulpy noir-mystery, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a funny, surprising little movie. Robert Downey Jr. (before he was Iron Man) plays Harry Lockhart and Val Kilmer (after he was Batman) plays the private investigator “Gay” Perri. They’re teamed up by a Hollywood producer so that Harry can learn the basics of being a detective for a role he’s been cast in, but very quickly stumble into a very real murder mystery. Now, Black is back in the director’s chair and he’s decided to make another movie about an unlikely pair investigating something that should be benign, but quickly spirals into something much bigger, and much more dangerous. It is The Nice Guys.
Here, Ryan Gosling plays the hapless Holland March while Russell Crowe plays Bronx-native brute, Jackson Healy. March is a private investigator working cases that could otherwise be solved by an adventurous group of girl scouts, while Healy sells his talent for inflicting pain to whoever’s got enough cash to afford him. They come together to search the seedier side of Los Angeles for Amelia, a girl whose managed to get into some serious trouble for reasons yet unknown to either of them. If either of them wants to keep living where they are, or living at all, they’re going to have to solve this case quickly.
Black knows how to pair off characters and actors to get the best chemistry possible (this is the guy who wrote and directed Lethal Weapon), and here it’s no different. Gosling and Crowe play off each other perfectly, clearly having the time of their lives as they traipse across 1970’s Los Angeles trying to unravel the mystery of why so many dangerous people want this seemingly unimportant girl dead. March is sincere to the point of buffoonery, trying best he can to raise a daughter in a town fraught with pollution, vulgarity, and corruption. Healy just wants to find a sense of purpose beyond breaking fingers, even if those fingers are attached to people who deserve much worse.
While the case might seem familiar to those who enjoy detective movies, the story it is wrapped in is refreshingly new and poignant, taking aim at some of the bigger problems we have today that we thought were going to be solved 40 years ago. And the fact that this movie is really funny just makes those hits cut even deeper. There’s a dark sense of irony here, one that wouldn’t have been nearly as sharp just a few weeks ago (or a few months ago prior to that). But that just makes the movie all the more impressive as a result. Timelessness doesn’t just derive from a movie being topical, but from an ability to see ahead how many times we are going to make the same mistakes.
Does The Nice Guys stack up against Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a better overall movie? It’s hard to say for sure. But that shouldn’t suggest at all that The Nice Guys isn’t a movie worth watching, then watching again. It’s hilarious and engaging in unexpected ways, making it one of the most memorable movies of 2016, and one that should not be missed.
The Nice Guys Premieres on HBO Saturday, January 28 at 8pm!