[Screen It]


(2016) (Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe) (R)

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Action-Comedy: A private detective and a hired enforcer join forces and uncover a trail of dead bodies while trying to find a missing young woman.
It's 1978 and Holland March (RYAN GOSLING) is a private detective working in Los Angeles and raising his young teenage daughter, Holly (ANGOURIE RICE), by himself following losing his wife and home to a fire sometime in the past. When he's paid to find a missing young woman, Amelia (MARGARET QUALLEY), he has a bad run-in with hired enforcer Jackson Healy (RUSSELL CROWE) who beats him up and tells him to drop the case. But when Amelia then goes missing, the two join forces to try to find her and figure out if her disappearance is somehow tied to the recent and suspicious death of a porn star.

Their investigation leads to run-ins with an older hitman (KEITH DAVID) and his younger associate (BEAU KNAPP), as well as a film projectionist, Chet (JACK KILMER), who might have information as the case widens and more bodies start piling up. Things become even more complicated when Judith Kutner (KIM BASINGER) of the Justice Department and her assistant, Tally (YAYA DaCOSTA), inform Holland Jackson that Amelia is Judith's daughter and is concerned about her well-being.

But when they eventually find the girl, she says her mother is involved in a government cover-up and is trying to have her killed. Not sure who to believe, the two men continue their investigation, all while having to deal with various dangers, including the arrival of a ruthless hitman known as John Boy (MATT BOMER).

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
It's not unusual for people who've become successful and then, for any number of reasons, have lost their related mojo, success and thus power, to return to what initially made them a hit. Granted, if you're a pro quarterback whose winning ways have waned, you can't really return to middle school or high school where things began.

But if you're a screenwriter who was once one of the hottest scribes around, only to have that seemingly deflated just as fast as it hyper-inflated, you can return to the material and writing style that kick-started your career.

Considering that Shane Black was once one of a handful of go-to writers in Hollywood whose spec scripts commanded bidding wars that drove purchase prices up into the millions, only to have that suddenly dry up, it wouldn't have surprised anyone had he returned to work on something similar to his breakout success, "Lethal Weapon."

Yet, nearly two decades after his biggest sale ($4 million for "The Long Kiss Goodnight") and eight years after his directorial debut of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (working from his own script) didn't exactly light up box office coffers (it made $15 million worldwide), he somehow managed to co-write and direct "Iron Man 3."

Its $1.2 billion worldwide take insured Black was back, so what did he do as his follow-up where the movie world was once again his oyster? He's returned to the sort of material that made the 1987 Mel Gibson/Danny Glover mismatched cop action flick such a hit. And that arrives this week in the shape of "The Nice Guys" where Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are certainly mismatched types, albeit of the private detective sort of variety in what turns out to be a winning and entertaining action comedy that proves Shane the screenwriter still has what it takes.

Whether it plays like "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" or "Iron Man 3" at the box office remains to be seen, but if you enjoyed the banter, stylings, and male bonding chemistry of a bygone era in the first "Lethal Weapon" flick, you'll probably have the same reaction to this offering.

The film -- also directed by Black -- has the look and feel of an offering from the 1980s (it's set in 1978 Los Angeles), and Gosling and Crowe are terrific playing off each other and their characters' disparate personalities but also somewhat professions. Gosling embodies a chain-smoking, heavy-drinking private eye who supports his young teenage daughter (a winning Angourie Rice) following the death of his wife sometime in the past in a house fire. His work isn't glamorous, but the pay is decent enough to prevent him from turning into a full-blown alcoholic widower.

We know less about Crowe's character that's more of a hired thug who, when not beating up pedophile drug dealers, accepts money to protect young women such as Amelia (Margaret Qualley). When Jackson learns that Holland is sniffing around trying to find her, he responds with a beat-down, stay-away message.

Yet, when Amelia goes missing, the two men form an unlikely alliance in trying to find the missing woman, all while their digging turns up bodies, possible corruption and conspiracy, and a trio of hitmen (Keith David, Beau Knapp and Matt Bomer) who have no problem with both men being in the crossfire of them doing their job.

Granted, the plot isn't anything tremendous, but it works for moving things forward and allowing us to watch the characters interact. They're engaging and entertaining to behold, the dialogue is strong to sometimes terrific, and the overall comedic frosting comes in various layers and flavors and makes things go down in a highly enjoyable fashion.

While no one would have blamed Black to have run with his "Iron Man" success, I'm happy he returned to his roots and delivered a film like he used to write and certainly a stylistic one that doesn't get made that often anymore. "The Nice Guys" is like a blast from the past and thus rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 16, 2016 / Posted May 20, 2016

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