The Nice Guys is one of Shane Black’s pulpiest films. Which is an odd thing to say about a guy whose first two movies as a director were Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, which were about a PI named Gay Perry and a crime-fighting billionaire with a robot house, respectively, and who rose to fame writing goofy action movies like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. But if Iron Man 3 was Shane Black mediated for the masses, The Nice Guys feels more his unadulterated id, with all his usual influences, from Raymond Chandler to the Three Stooges, presented in such undiluted quantities that you can taste them all individually (which, if Chopped judges are to be believed, is a good thing).
I’d been obsessively rewatching Shane Black movies since before I knew his name, so for me the feeling of giddy nostalgia patched some of the bigger holes in the story’s believability. By contrast, a local TV critic who favors elaborate summer hats left the film loudly explaining why she didn’t like it — she just couldn’t buy Ryan Gosling’s character. And he was sort of like a drunk Wile E. Coyote (with boyish good looks). Point being, The Nice Guys probably isn’t the movie I’d take a Shane Black virgin to. It doesn’t nibble your ear to distract from the deflowering, like Geena Davis quoting Harold Robbins in The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s more like Samuel L. Jackson in the same scene. “I usually just sock ’em in the jaw and yell ‘Pop goes the weasel!’ ”
Of course, if you’re not a Shane Black virgin, identifying all of Shane Black’s various obsessions and writing tics and the way they bubble up and combine throughout The Nice Guys is half the fun. If The Nice Guys is a map of Shane Black’s subconscious, here are some of the main points of interest.