In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s not quite as wacky as the trailer had me hoping it would be, but I still loved it and laughed constantly as I watched it.”
“You’re the world’s worst detectives.”
In 1987, screenwriter Shane Black defined the mismatched buddy copy action movie as we know it, with Lethal Weapon. He accomplished the rare feat of delivering a sequel that more than live up to its predecessor with Lethal Weapon 2, and let his darker tendencies show on the The Last Boy Scout. A movie that starts with quarterback shooting opposition players in front of a capacity crowd before killing himself, and only gets more and more bleak from there, while still finding room for plenty of jokes, smart ass comebacks and zingers.
Those movies, plus an uncredited punch up on action classic Predator, put Black on the kind of streak that made people wonder if he could do any wrong. Turns out, he could. 1993 saw a million dollar pay cheque for a re-write on the floptacular Last Action Hero, before he scored a record breaking $4million for writing the monumental shit bomb that was The Long Kiss Goodnight. The kind of movie that is only remembered and talked about today because of just how spectacularly it flopped.
Out of commission for almost a decade, he came back strong, this time writing and directing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. A movie underseen but appreciated at the time, that seems to have been steadily growing in cult reverence ever since. Taking things a little slower in his career’s second act, he laid low again before bringing his indelible smirky darkness to directing Iron Man 3 eight years later.
Why have I dedicated three paragraphs and 300 words to a writer and director’s resume before even mentioning the movie that I’m supposed to be reviewing here? Because Shane Black’s Hollywood history fascinates me as much as his better movies entertain me. And that history played a big part in why I was so excited to see his return to the world of wise cracking, mismatched, buddy “cops”, in The Nice Guys.
In 1970s Los Angeles, a car careens though a house and crashes on the other side, killing its porn star driver, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Soon after, bumbling PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired by Misty’s aunt, who swears she saw her niece alive and well after the accident. March’s investigation puts him on the trail of Misty Mountains lookalike, Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley). Looking for Amelia puts March on the radar of local enforcer and muscle for hire, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe).
When Healy is attacked by some gunned up goons also looking for Amelia, he realises that an alliance with March might be financially beneficial to them both. With March’s tween daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) tagging along for much of the action, the two are soon in way over their heads, dealing with conspiracies, corruption, collusion, twists and turns that make their case more complicated and more dangerous with each revelation.
The Good Guys is pure Shane Black, and I mean that in the best and worst ways. March and Healy are right up there with Lethal Weapons’ Riggs and Murtaugh as possibly his greatest ever pair of wise cracking, mismatched buddies, with Gosling and Crowe deserving just as much credit for that as Black’s script and direction. I could watch these two argue and trade quips for hours, even if there was no plot to drive it. The action is generally real enough to matter, while being escapist enough to enjoy guilt free (more on that “generally” later). It’s not quite as wacky as the trailer had me hoping it would be, but I still loved it and laughed constantly as I watched it.
But now, in its wake, writing about it after the fact, The Good Guys has left an increasingly bad taste in my mouth. The movie might be set in the 70s, and its deliberately convoluted plot and setting are clear homages to LA noir classic Chinatown, but it’s Shane Black’s 80s and 90s tendencies that don’t quite sit right with me the more I think about it. There’s nudity in the opening moments that goes so far beyond gratuitous, that maybe I can write it off as Back paying homage to the B grade 70s pulp that he’s referencing with the entire movie, but the violence is a little more difficult to reckon with.
In one scene, a bad guy takes a shot at Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy. Diving out of the way, the bullet ends up hitting a woman changing in front of the open window of an apartment across the way. Then… Well, then nothing. She gets hit, she goes down, never to be seen again. Was she killed? Was she only grazed? Is she slowly and painfully bleeding out on the floor? The movie never gives her a second thought.
As the movie nears a close, after the bullets and bodies have stopped flying, March comments, “Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.” To which Healy replies, “People got hurt.” March’s response, “I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.” I’ll admit, that made me laugh in the cinema, and even chuckle a little then when I copied it from the IMDB quotes page. But it also makes me think even more about the thrown away nature of violence in The Good Guys.
Maybe lines like that, and visuals like the anonymous, gut shot neighbour, are Black making a scathing comment about the casualness of violence on screen, and in the real world. If that’s the case, it’s kind of admirable. But if it is the case, I wish he had made it a little more obvious and blatant.
On a lighter note, between this and The Big Short, I am now officially a Ryan Gosling fan… As long as he sticks to comedy.