The Nice Guys – Review (****)

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After his brief sojourn into monstrous blockbuster territory with Iron Man 3, Shane Black returns to his pulpy noir roots with one of his strongest and most uproariously funny efforts to date. The dream team of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have rarely been better.

It’s Los Angeles in 1977, and the death of a porn star brings surly enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) and private eye Holland March (Gosling) together to uncover the nature of her demise and the inevitable conspiracy that follows.

The plot is, true to the noir genre, utterly impenetrable at times and dispensable at others; Black intentionally obfuscates his own narrative with a whirlwind of names and events, while instead training his laser focus on the two focal characters and their utterly irresistible double act.

Gosling and Crowe turn in some of the best work of their careers here, terrifically matched as a vulgar odd couple who occasionally do some work for the greater good (and the fattening of their wallets, of course). The rat-a-tat dialogue between the two reveals some of Black’s sharpest writing in years, perhaps not quite measuring up to the meta thrills of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but landing close by for sure.

Much like Black’s The Last Boy Scout, there’s a child sidekick character for added value in March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), who turns out to be the movie’s biggest surprise and a major find, stealing several scenes as the precocious youngster keen to immerse herself in the investigation. Let’s put it this way; unlike so many other movie kids, you won’t groan whenever she shows up on-screen.

The fact that the film is outrageously crass and ultra-violent only makes a child’s placement front-and-center all the more hysterical, and Black milks it for every drop it’s worth while incredibly managing the rare feat of writing a child who actually speaks like a child.

All this and Black still isn’t content; add some gut-bustingly surreal asides, lashings of fun period detail and a layered script that will undoubtedly unravel further on multiple viewings, and you have the recipe for a contemporary crime comedy classic. If you’re a fan of the buddy cop genre, hard-boiled noir or R-rated comedy, this one’s a must, as long as you’re prepared to follow it to some dark, weird and usually hilarious places.

****

The Nice Guys is in cinemas now

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