- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - For writer-director Shane Black, the seedy, violent world inhabited by private detectives and criminals in his new action-comedy “The Nice Guys” is not a milieu at which he arrived only recently.

With trademark snappy dialogue and dark humor, Mr. Black has been dealing with dicks, villains and troubled cops since bursting on the Hollywood scene out of nowhere with the script for 1987’s “Lethal Weapon.”

But even long before that unlikely-detective-buddies story, he was soaking up antihero pulp fiction from the comics he found in outlets around Pittsburgh, or the novels his father liked to read in their Mount Lebanon home, or the film noir he saw in Downtown’s bygone movie houses. It’s a genre that intrigues him still at age 54.

“There’a thread of melancholy and bitter-sweetness about it, along with the wisecracking that belies the tremendous turmoil and loneliness inside the characters,” Black said in a phone interview while promoting “The Nice Guys,” which opens Friday. “There was this myth I was fascinated by, of the iconic loner, the private eye walking the mean streets.”

He makes his youth here sound like anything but those of a tough, scrappy kid who would fit in one of his stories. Raised in Lower Burrell and Murrysville before his family settled in Mount Lebanon, he was an introspective reader. His family moved to California at the end of his freshman year of high school. Before that, he spent time browsing the comics on the racks of Murray Avenue News & Toys in Squirrel Hill.

“It was a big deal to go there, looking at the garish painted covers in the adventure racks,” Black recalled. “I’d read as much as I could in the store before a guy there would say, ‘Hey, buddy, you going to pull up a chair or buy something or what?’”

The love of reading Mickey Spillane and others defining “this iconic male presence I could never live up too” turned to a more visual medium after he was in California, first in high school and then as a film and theater major at UCLA. A friend convinced him that writing a screenplay was within his reach.

“I had always assumed there was this code to crack, this multilayered template impossible for someone like me to do. Once I realized it was possible just to write a screenplay for fun and almost novelistically, I started playing with the kind of dialogue I’d gleaned from thousands of books over the years,” Black explained.

After achieving high regard for “Lethal Weapon,” he gained fame by receiving a then-record $4 million for the screenplay for 1994’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” Seeking greater control later over his scripts, he moved into directing the films he wrote or co-wrote, first with the film noir “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and subsequently to huge success with 2013’s “Iron Man 3.”

“The Nice Guys” pairs Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as unlikely buddies navigating another L.A. detective mystery in darkly comic fashion. Next up for Black is co-writing and directing the next film in the “Predator” franchise.

He says his schedule prevents him from getting back as much as he would like to Pittsburgh, where he still has aunts, uncles and cousins. Making a film here would be a splendid way to solve that, he says, if production cost and film credit issues worked out favorably.

“Pittsburgh has such a unique feel, combining the beautiful renaissance taking place there of the artistic and theater communities with the old buildings that still exist from the 1800s and 1900s, that old Nixon Theater era,” he said. “I think there’s very much room for a big, tense gritty urban thriller set against that backdrop, whether it’s being used as Pittsburgh or standing in for someplace else.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/20mJYNS

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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