Good things come to those who wait.
Every decade, filmmaker Shane Black unspools a deliciously off-kilter buddy action comedy that plays fast and loose with the conventions of the genre.
In 1996, he penned The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis and Samuel L Jackson, which metamorphosed a picture-perfect suburban mom into a finely honed killing machine.
In 2005, he repeated the feat and also sat in the director’s chair for the potty-mouthed murder mystery Kiss Kiss Bang Bang headlining Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer.
Now, Black strikes it lucky for a third time with the unlikely comic pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, a hare-brained missing person’s caper set in sexually liberated 1977 Los Angeles.
The script delivers big, throaty laughs from the cynical opening - “Marriage is buying a house with someone you hate!” - and adroitly juggles physical and verbal humour, inflicting injuries and indignities on his leading men for our sport and entertainment.
It’s a groovy kind of bromantic love and Crowe and Gosling relish the to and fro of the snappy dialogue as they gleefully contend with the fashions of the era.
Jackson Healy (Crowe) is a hired heavy, who beats up perverts and stalkers with his knuckleduster.
A young woman called Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) pays him to scare off low-rent private detective Holland March (Gosling), who has been asking for her around town.
The first meeting of these two men ends in bloodshed and broken bones, but Jackson and Holland reluctantly agree to work together when Amelia subsequently vanishes without trace.
“Why don’t you invite him in?” asks Holland’s precocious daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) when Jackson turns up at their door.
“No animals in the house, sweetheart,” retorts the investigator, bearing the physical scars of their previous encounter.
The breadcrumb trail of evidence leads to Amelia’s fearsome mother, Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), who works for the United States Department of Justice and pleads with Jackson and Holland to locate and protect her child.
Unfortunately, a hitman called John Boy (Matt Bomer) is also on the trail of Amelia, and Holland also needs to solve the perplexing mystery of porn actress Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), who was apparently seen alive two days after she died in a car accident.
The Nice Guys doesn’t quite soar to the dizzy heights of Black’s previous escapades, but he comes close, retaining an enviable ability to conjure jaw-dropping one-liners out of nowhere.
Like when the central duo is detained by a police officer who is simply following the rulebook.
“You know who else was just following orders? Hitler!” counters Jackson.
The central plot is a morass of crosses, double crosses, bluffs and coincidences that intrigues and bamboozles, untangling itself in the closing frames with aplomb.