In 1993, I paid money to see The Last Action Hero. I mention this because there’s a scene in that movie that has bugged me until this day. (A lot of scenes in that movie bugged me, but only one stuck with me for 23 years.) It’s when Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is in the real world and attempts to punch out a car window. In real life, this is not an easy thing to do without some sort of hard object to help. If a human being punches a car window, there’s a better than average chance that human being, even Jack Slater, will break his hand. Yet, Jack Slater succeeds. But, since this is the real world, he mentions that it hurt.
Shane Black kind of, sort of wrote The Last Action Hero. (It’s a long and complicated story and you can read about it here.) I bring up that The Last Action Hero scene because there’s a scene in Shane Black’s new film, The Nice Guys (which Black for sure co-wrote and directed) in which Ryan Gosling’s private investigator Holland March meticulously wraps his hand with cloth before punching out a small backdoor window. We spend a good amount of time watching this. When he punches the glass, he slices his wrist open and immediately has to go to the hospital. I’ve waited 23 years for Shane Black to give me the version of this scene that I wanted to see. It was worth the wait. (Well, not really. But, still, this movie is good.)
The Nice Guys takes place in the late ‘70s, which is always a cooler period of time in the movies than it was in real life. (I don’t really remember the ‘70s very well, but I do remember being yelled at by my parents for leaving the TV on when I left the room because there was an energy crisis. I think they told me Jimmy Carter would yell at me. Now I leave the TV on willy nilly for as long as I want. So take that, ‘70s.)
Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a minor Los Angeles celebrity of sorts thanks to being a “tough guy.” If you have a problem, Healy is good at making that problem go away. He’s not afraid to break some bones to make his point. He’s hired by an aspiring actress (Margaret Qualley) to rough up a mysterious man who has been asking questions about her. That man is, of course, Holland March, who had been hired to find a missing person. Healy and March don’t get along at first, but they eventually put their information together and they find themselves — along with March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who is the real brains of this operation — in the middle of a grand conspiracy that involves the Justice Department and the porn industry.
This is one of those movie that, 20 years ago, would have been fun, but now seems like an honest to goodness miracle that it exists: Two relatively famous people starring in an action comedy mid-budget studio film that has no ties to anything else and doesn’t involve any supernatural beings. This isn’t one of those “they don’t make them like this anymore” kind of movies, but more they literally don’t make these movies anymore.
If you like Shane Black, you will like The Nice Guys. It’s probably the Shane Black-est of all the Shane Black movies. As I mentioned with the window scene, Black has a knack for turning action movie expectations on their head (as he did in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with the bullet in the gun scene; or in Iron Man 3 when Tony Stark did not care at all about a young kid’s tale of woe about a deadbeat dad) mixed with knowing and rich dialogue. (And Christmas. There’s always Christmas.) If you don’t like Shane Black, well, it’s still different than anything else you’ll see at your local multiplex during the summer. It’s set in the ‘70s, but it feels like a ‘90s movie. (I mean that as a compliment because there are a lot of bad ‘90s movies and I want to clarify that I mean a good ‘90s movie.)
This feels like a movie I should already be referencing as an example of the type of movie that studios don’t make anymore, but I can’t because it’s new. The Nice Guys won’t change your life. Twenty years from now, no one will say, “I decided to become a filmmaker because of The Nice Guys.” (You know, I already take this back. I bet one person will.) But it’s fun. Summer fun! (Yeah, it’s still spring, but you know what I mean.) The world sucks right now, so we all deserve a little summer fun with a beat ‘em up, funny action movie. You know, maybe the ‘70s weren’t that bad after all.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.