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The Good Fight 

Gosling and Crowe aren't nice guys

Gosling and Crowe get up to some shenanigans in "The Nice Guys."

Gosling and Crowe get up to some shenanigans in "The Nice Guys."

Shane Black makes movies people either love or hate. There never seems to be any middle ground. His filmography is filled with smash hits or financial disappointments, nary a mild success to be found. In his early '20s he sold the script for "Lethal Weapon." Over the next few years he had his fingers in some of the weirdest and wildest American movies released. Whether he was acting in "Predator" and "Dead Heat," writing "The Last Boy Scout" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight" or directing "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang," he was always spewing truly original ideas.

It was "Iron Man 3" in 2013 that gave him his first hit since the 1990s. Now he has a bit of breathing room to get the projects he's passionate about produced. His first passion project out of the gate is "The Nice Guys" starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.

The flick tells the tale of a dead porn star, a missing girl and the two men who come together to bring them justice. Gosling is Holland March, a private detective hired by the elderly aunt of the dead porn star. She claims she saw her niece alive two days after her supposed death and wants March to find her. Crowe is Jackson Healey, an independent leg-breaker who was hired by the missing girl to keep the people searching for her away. March and Healey's cases collide and they team up to fight hit men, the Detroit mafia and sometimes each other.

"The Nice Guys" is set in a flawlessly reproduced Los Angeles of 1977, but brings a 1940's sense of noir storytelling into Black's ultramodern reconfiguration of tough guy archetypes. Crowe's Healey is tough and angry, but his strong moral code keeps him solidly in the white hat category. Gosling's March is a widower with a teenage girl, but with a vicious drinking problem that makes him fun and sometimes useless. The characters together elevate the film much further past what the convoluted plot would otherwise demand.

The film bears easiest comparison to "The Big Lebowski," while also lovingly paying tribute to the neo-noir shadings "Chinatown," "Inherent Vice" and 1946's "The Big Sleep." Just like "Lebowski," the characters are in way over their head, surrounded by a conspiracy they barely understand, but unlike The Dude, Healey and March are mostly capable of thinking and fighting their way out of it.

Brilliantly, Black knows that the plot (involving porn kingpins, the automotive industry and the Department of Justice) isn't what will make this film work. Instead, it's a funny script carried out by two charming leads with Crowe and Gosling looking like they're having the most fun they've had in years. The friend I saw the movie with absolutely hated the story, but said they would definitely go see another adventure that included these characters.

Their effortless chemistry is so winning that even some of the larger plot holes are easily erased just by Crowe and Gosling's easy-going relationship. Some of the big picture plot mechanics don't quite add up and the last 20 minutes contain a few pretty abrupt tonal shifts, but overall the film is a joy. The final message of the film doesn't become clear until "The Nice Guys" final minutes, but when it falls into place the film ends with quite the thematic gut punch.

"The Nice Guys" isn't for everyone. The language is rough, there's some pointless nudity and the violence is brutal, but the film has a big, beautiful heart. As corrupt as the system might get, as dour as the future might be, "The Nice Guys" are going to keep fighting until they are either dead or out of bullets. It's always good to know someone is out there fighting the good fight, even if they don't really want to.

The Nice Guys

Dir. Shane Black

Grade: B+

Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX

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