The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
The Nice Guys (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Directed by Shane Black
Written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi
One of the common, tragic themes I run across a bunch in my cinematic endeavors is the writer as director. And the inability of some film-makers to separate the two hats when tasked to do both jobs. Mostly what you get is a talented scribe presenting the audience with a visual interpretation of their script. It’s easy to think that’s all that movies are, from the writer’s perspective. I guess that’s all they really want. Hey, look at this cool thing I wrote. Here it is as a glorified table read… on location… to music. And Shane Black who wrote & directs The Nice Guys does that same thing. He puts a great script on film. Without any of the intangibles that bring a story to life, that make the written word into a film. You might as well be buying a ticket to watch a table read… with music.
Abbott & Costello meet Mickey Spillane. The Nice Guys is a buddy comedy and a mystery and it has great dialogue but both Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling needed to reign in their Abbott & Costello shtick. They needed to be reigned in. A better director possibly would have. Both of their performances are way over-the-top. The only believable character is the daughter who delivers the best line in the movie when she says her dad is the worst detective ever. She’s right. He’s awful. We’re talking Inspector Clouseau. Gosling’s detective is the Abbott to Crowe’s Costello. It’s silly. It’s really fucking silly.
The plot and the mystery have something to do with the car industry and the porn industry. And even that ends up being kind of silly when the plan was to show a porn film to a car show audience as a way to expose corruption in government. Whatever. It’s really stupid. But the dialogue is great. Shane Black is a good writer. Scratch that. He’s a great writer. But because he’s not much of a director these lines feel like they’re being delivered on a sound stage or in an acting class or a High School auditorium. It doesn’t feel organic… even in all its silliness.
The Nice Guys includes the customary violence and cartoonish masculinity we expect from Shane Black while he’s doing his best channeling of Mickey Spillane or Raymond Chandler. I have no problem with that. It’s Shane Black. There will be gun-play. Somebody’s gonna get punched. Someone’s masculinity will be questioned by the proverbial manly man’s man. That’s fine. Again, it’s Shane Black. The problem is there is nothing else there. After the clever dialogue and the cool violence, nothing. There’s no visual story. And by that I mean. The sets don’t tell a story. The wardrobe has nothing to say. The camera doesn’t have a secret. The music is not helping us empathize with the action. There’s so much more to presenting a story than just… presenting the story.
The Nice Guys is not a good movie. Shane Black fails to make us care about any of the main characters (except the daughter… but I think the actress does that on her own). The two title characters are so very hateful you just want to smack ’em. There’s no sense of jeopardy at all. Because nothing feels real. And also because it’s hard to care about what happens to these two fucking assholes. Honestly, they should have told the entire story from the daughter’s point of view. Her exasperation with the two adults is the best thing about The Nice Guys. The rest is a total mess.
So in conclusion, The Nice Guys is a waste of two hours. I wasn’t invested even through the shoot-outs and fight scenes. I rarely laughed even though the dialogue is extremely funny. The actors are completely over-the-top. And I don’t even remember the plot and I just watched the damn thing. I literally just watched the damn thing.