Maybe it’s just me, but the charm of detective stories is not the endless parade of murders, but your sense of connection to the working stiffs trying to figure out what happened to the not-working-any-more stiffs. I am inclined to think I’ve stumbled into the mainstream on this one, since it’s a good explanation for the endless parade of cop serials on TV.
The Nice Guys was in development hell for a while as a TV serial, and they made it into a movie when they just couldn’t get the pilot to gel. Based on the movie, they gave up too soon. It would have made a great TV serial, although if the money’s out there for a show about a couple of mismatched lunkheads who are stumbling through their lives as much as through their cases, just bring back Terriers.
That said, the TV show probably wouldn’t have been able to afford Russell Crowe. They wouldn’t have had the money for Ryan Gosling either, but Ryan could probably be replaced by any number of smaller actors. I’m not sure that The Nice Guys would have worked as well without Crowe’s Jackson Healy. Crowe hasn’t been this - loveable - since Gladiator. Healy ought to be a terrible person, and yet somehow he’s not. I’m not sure how Crowe does it, but somehow he gets the most likeable character in the whole movie out of a guy who beats people up for money. Healy’s about the smartest man in the whole show, which is not difficult, but he’s also somehow the decentest. I could have watched Healy all day, but I’m pretty sure no-one could afford to pay Crowe to play him for that long.
Crowe apart, it’s a Shane Black movie. There’s a mismatched duo. There’s a young daughter in peril who’s also the smartest person in the movie. There’s any number of effete villains fleering around the place and beating up the heroes. There’s a briefcase, which I was amazed to see did not have a bomb in it. There’s an action climax at a big outdoor event full of rich people. There’s a McGuffin which gives away the tawdry secrets of rich connected scumbags. These are all good things. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a great little movie. The Long Kiss Goodbye is one of the best stupid thrillers I’ve ever seen. I still watch The Last Boy Scout from time to time just to cheer myself up. They are all, in their own ways, assembled from the same simple bag of components that Black has been using since he was a screen-writing wunderkind introducing us to Martin Riggs - back in those happy days when we all believed that Mel Gibson was just acting crazy.
It’s not a great Shane Black movie. That’s a split between The Long Kiss Goodbye if you just want thrills, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang if you want something a bit more meta. But even a not-great Shane Black movie is a lot of fun. It probably helps to have seen some of his other stuff, because a lot of the jokes are sour glances at his earlier work. When things go wrong, and they go wrong all the time, it’s funnier when you realise that they’re things which would have been miraculously effective in more mainstream thrillers.
The running gag - and the thing which could have held up any amount of TV episodes - is that Healy and March are the worst detectives ever. Healy at least knows he isn’t a real detective, but he’s naive enough to think that real detectives exist. Meanwhile March is convinced that he’s a real detective, and the movie mercilessly undercuts every “insight” he has. March is the kind of person who can say “You know who else was following orders? Hitler.” and think he’s made the winning move in the argument; Healy’s look of utter incredulity as the camera comes back to him is almost worth the ticket price all on its own. If they could have found someone to swap in for Crowe, and a way to keep writing nonsense for him to react to, they could have had something which would run forever, or at least until the loveable precocious pre-teen kid got too old to be a proper foil for the so-called grownups. Donal Logue would have been great, but if you’ve got money and Donal Logue, bring back Terriers. As I keep saying.