The new film The Nice Guys feels almost like a complete throwback to the old days and not just because of its 1970s setting. Released in a summer season filled with sequels and superheroes, an R-rated buddy cop action-comedy might seem like something of an anomaly. It might raise an eyebrow or two when placed on the marquee, but the movie is a continuous delight from beginning to end. It’s worth seeking out amongst the VFX spectacles – The Nice Guys is filled with humor and charm that will make it stand out in the summer crowd as a real moviegoing highlight.
The plot is a twisty-turny Hollywood mystery set in 1977 that starts with a murdered porn star and a couple of freelance “detectives” mixed up in a couple of cases – both involving a woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) – that bring them together. Not all of the details work out or pay off in an overly satisfactory manner, but they’re more fun to unravel on your own. Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a heavy who hurts folks for money, and Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a P.I. with a drinking problem and a precocious teenage daughter (Angourie Rice). Healy and March find themselves intertwined and quickly decide to put their heads together in the pursuit of a common goal. They’re an odd pair and probably in over their heads, but they navigate the case with enough charm and wit to make their accomplishments feel earned.
If the story doesn’t jump out and grab you then surely the film’s cast will. It needs to be noted just how funny Ryan Gosling can be with the right material. He’s done some funny stuff in the past, most notably as a guest host on Saturday Night Live, but he gets to flex some serious muscle here. His toe maybe slips over the line and pushes the wacky/bumbling aspect of the character a bit too far, but his footing levels out once the story gets rolling.
Russell Crowe gives one of his most likeable performances here and makes one remember just how good of an actor he really can be when he’s working on something of quality. Fans of L.A. Confidential will take added delight in seeing Crowe share the screen again with Kim Basinger, who appears in a small role. The supporting players are all uniformly perfectly suited for their parts, including Keith David as a smooth thug who faces off with Healy on more than one occasion.
Co-writer/director Shane Black is pretty much the brightest star burning in the mismatched buddy cop action-comedy subgenre. Black wrote the original Lethal Weapon that was so influential it’s been copied countlessly with widely varying degrees of success. Hell, they’re still trying to follow Black’s model in 2016 with a recently announced TV adaptation of Black’s seminal work. He’s also the man behind Iron Man 3, which is highly underrated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black’s first standout moment as a director was with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The Nice Guys would pair quite nicely with that film, even if the banter between Gosling and Crowe doesn’t come as naturally as it did with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Kiss Kiss’s plotting was also less easily telegraphed from the onset, and its technical deficiencies were few and far between. There’s a rough edge to The Nice Guys that sort of drags it down at times. Its screenplay, written by Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, struggles to get the characters on their feet at first; the story hits some spotty patches, like the script itself were groomed by March’s shitty electric razor. It’s got all the tropes and a few surprises of its own, but it all somehow just mellows out and vibes together to make for a consistently solid two hours of fun.
There are moments in The Nice Guys that made me laugh very hard. Many delights can be found in the finer details of the production design, score, costumes, and generally all technical disciplines. But on a pure entertainment scale, The Nice Guys is an across the board success. The movie’s got a little bit of something for everyone and at the end of the day there’s just so much fun to take in. Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy the vibes and worry about the bigger problems later.
Four greasy porn ‘staches out of five!