At the outset of my recent conversation with Russell Crowe about his new film The Nice Guys, I told him that I was a giant fan of its writer/director Shane Black. Crowe responded by saying that The Nice Guys is "about as Shane Black as it gets".
He's not wrong. For fans of the kind of witty, agile action films that Shane Black perfected with his screenplays for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he also directed), The Nice Guys is pure catnip.
It gets away with a kind of violent gallows humour that many action films aspire to without success. Black is a master of this kind of thing, and its super gratifying to see him getting to make the kinds of films he wants to make following the major success of Iron Man III, his career comeback.
With hugely positive buzz surrounding The Nice Guys, and a new show based on Lethal Weapon having been picked up to series, Black's stock is hotter than ever, which can only be a good thing for cinema.
To celebrate Black being back, I will cite here the five most Shane Black-iest moments from his relatively sparse filmography.
5. Telling locker room jokes in Predator (1987)
Occasional actor Black didn't write the screenplay for Predator, but was cast in a supporting role by director John McTiernan so he could provide dialogue punch-ups while on location in the Mexican jungle.
Black's most memorable contribution is a series of female anatomy jokes told by his glasses-wearing merc, "Hawkins". Although undeniably offensive, the crude humour is in line with the over-the-top macho camaraderie of the commando unit on display.
Nobody does action hero bonding like Shane Black.
In a crazy turn of events that few could've predicted back in 1987, Black's next film as writer/director is a new Predator movie. I wonder if there will be any joke-telling mercs in that one.
4. Robert Downey Jr.'s big entrance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Black's first film as director is a pretty pure statement of intent - it's a spry action comedy with great chemistry between its two leads.
Although it couldn't attract A-list stars as originally intended, Black's faith in Robert Downey Jr. at a time when few would employ the actor paid off not only in the film itself, but in Downey later repaying the favour by getting Black to direct Iron Man III.
After almost a decade without a credit, it was a big treat to see Black's stylings back on the big screen in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and they're easily rendered verbal by Downey's singular ability to rattle off rat-a-tat dialogue.
Only Black and Downey together could sell a scene in which a thief stumbles into a Hollywood audition while on the run from the cops...and secures a callback.
3. Bruce Willis delivers on his promise in The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Black's magnum opus as a screenwriter, The Last Boy Scout is a perfect movie with innumerable classic Shane Black moments.
But for this list we must focus on quite possibly the most hard boiled scene Black ever wrote: Bruce Willis' scuzzy PI Joe Hallenbeck is being held captive by the bad guys, tied to a chair, and all he wants is a cigarette.
Each time Joe leans in to get his ciggie lit, a henchman named Chet (Kim Coates) cruelly punches him in the face. Joe warns Chet that if he does this again, Joe will kill him.
Joe asks for a light, Chet repeats the action, and Joe delivers on his promise. Murder is bad, people. But it never seemed more appropriate than in this moment.
2. Samuel L. Jackson enjoys a cigarette inThe Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Shane Black found perhaps the greatest ever vehicle for his cliché-warping dialogue in Samuel L. Jackson, and it's a bummer they haven't collaborated since this criminally underrated action thriller.
Jackson plays Mitch Henessey, a low-rent PI who gets mixed up with Charly Baltimore, an amnesiac assassin played by Geena Davis.
At one point, Baltimore decides she doesn't like Henessey anymore, and pushes him out of a moving car on to an ice and snow-laden New Jersey street.
Henessey lands flat on his back, but instead of getting up or moving out of the way of traffic, he simply pulls out a cigarette and smokes it where he lies.
Baltimore drives around the block, then stops to pick him up. Black doesn't even need dialogue to extoll his wordview.
1. Mel Gibson jumps off a building in Lethal Weapon (1987)
Black's original script for Lethal Weapon famously had some of its hard edges smoothed down for the iconic film it inspired, but compared with the increasingly edge-less sequels (with which Black was not involved), it's totally badass.
This is the closest anyone ever came to providing an emotionally authentic rationale for the behaviour of a death-defying action hero.
The thread is exploited nicely for the classic scene in which Mel Gibson's LA cop Martin Riggs attempts to "talk" a potential jumper down from the side of a tall building.
Amped for The Nice Guys? Favourite Shane Black movie moment?