Shane Black arguably created the modern buddy movie with his screenplay for the classic Lethal Weapon. And it’s a genre that he was delighted to return to with the comedy-thriller The Nice Guys.
Shane Black is happy to admit that buddy films are his bread and butter. After all, he pretty much designed the template for the genre with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon series, and has just created another memorable double act in Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in the comedy-thriller The Nice Guys.
But perhaps what is surprising is the inspiration for his own buddy films. “I saw a movie that Ron Howard did called Night Shift, back in the 80s,” he recalls. “It was sold as a silly comedy, but I went to see it and I was surprised by this really kind of soulful and heartfelt relationship. And I thought, wow, isn’t that something that within the context of being that funny, you can actually tell an organic, real story.”
In The Nice Guys, Crowe plays an enforcer who teams up with a small-time private eye (Gosling) to solve a mystery involving a missing young woman, the death of a porn star, and a high level corporate conspiracy. However, unlike most of Black’s previous buddy flicks, this one has a retro setting, with the action unfolding in the seamy Los Angeles of the 1970s.
To Black, the era provided the perfect backdrop for his tale of corruption and murder. While Los Angeles was still a destination for dreamers, he says that by the ‘70s the city wasn’t in particularly good shape: the Hollywood sign was crumbling, the famous Sunset Strip was a haven for sleaze and prostitution, and the smog was so bad that there were air raid sirens telling children to go inside because it wasn’t safe to play outdoors.
“It was still maintaining this illusion of glamour and luxuriousness,” the writer-director adds. “I thought it was a perfect setting for a detective story.”
Although played mainly for laughs, Black was nevertheless conscious that the film also had to work as a suspenseful thriller. “You’ve got to keep that first and foremost,” he maintains. “Make sure there’s a strong mystery thriller and then let these guys just tear it to shreds and deconstruct it, and be very funny.”
His two stars certainly don’t disappoint on that front and Black was impressed with the way both Crowe and Gosling embraced the wisecracks and the more slapstick elements of the movie: “Ryan was particularly willing to just fling himself off from stuff onto other stuff,” he adds.
That said, it’s the odd couple relationship between the two leads that makes The Nice Guys such a joy – and that’s why Black remains so fond of the buddy genre.
“The buddy movie is just about people,” he says. “There’s a certain aspect I love about movies where people are kind of down-trodden, they’ve sort of given up. Someone else has to come long and believe in them when they don’t. And that kind of simple idea is infinitely variable. I felt listening to the banter these guys do back and forth, the throwaway stuff, the deadpan stuff…I could do that the rest of my life.”