Movie Review: 'The Nice Guys'
An L.A. detective noir-cum-comedy that leans heavily on the funny stuff, Shane Black’s 1970s-set The Nice Guys is an absolute blast thanks to game performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe and a keen sense of comic tone and timing from its director and co-writer.
Black was the one-time action writing hotshot behind Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout who dropped off the scene for a decade before making a comeback with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (and later, directing Iron Man 3).
His particular sense of sweaty machismo defined a generation of action movies, but would come across as antiquated in 2016; in The Nice Guys he dials things back into introspective self-parody, and comes away with his best film as director.
It’s part Big Lebowski, part Inherent Vice, with the plotting of a Chinatown and the director’s action-movie sensibilities undercut by an irreverent, goofy, almost stooge-level comedy.
Gosling is Holland March, a single father, private eye, and hopeless drunk who we first see waking up fully dressed and sopping wet in the bathtub. His 13-year-old daughter Holy (Angourie Rice) is a hopeful Encyclopedia Brown-type who tries to tag along with her father on assignments and keep her dad in line.
The joke is that Gosling’s hopeless drunk is not a good detective, or father, or even person, as his daughter helpfully tells him early on, but he stumbles into clues – literally, in a drunken stupor – gets out of trouble and solves cases despite himself.
He’s not very good at protecting his clients either: he gives up an old lady looking for her niece when threatened by tough guy Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who has been hired by the girl Holland has been following, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), to get him to back off.
But Healy soon finds out that something isn’t quite right with his client, and after she goes missing he teams up with a semi-reluctant Holland to track her down. Again.
That’s the start of a labyrinthine plotline that involves the 1970s L.A. porno scene, environmental activists fighting the L.A. smog, a pair of tough guy thugs (Keith David and Beau Knapp), a professional assassin (Matt Bomer), Detroit automakers, and a US Justice Department official (Kim Basinger).
Gosling, in rare go-for-broke goofball mode, is a blast as the alcoholic P.I., tossing out sarcastic retorts left and right and ineptly bounding through the movie’s violent action scenes. But Crowe provides the perfect straight man presence for his co-star to play off, and his character even lends the film some heart.
Most important of all: this film is genuinely funny, complete with jokes that are quietly set up at one early on and then pay off an hour down the line. Among the best: a diverting David Cronenberg-like dream sequence.
Shane Black isn’t reinventing himself here – this film has an awful lot in common with the earlier Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but his unique style and brand of action comedy is a more-than-welcome presence at the multiplex. The Nice Guys is a real hoot.