Film Review: 'The Nice Guys'
Let's take a long, nostalgic look back to the 70's - the "good ol' times" for most folks, and when Earth, Wind & Fire was playing at every party. The retro-style Warner Bros. logo and The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" (listen to this while you read) plays us in to a smog-infested Los Angeles, where two mismatched private eyes band together in The Nice Guys, a living homage to buddy-cop movies of a bygone era. Writer/director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) pens his love letter to 70's detective flicks with a delightfully humorous panache and a healthy dose of originality to make The Nice Guys a great watch.
Back to our two private eyes, for whom "mismatched" is a severe understatement: Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a fearsome but flabby brass-knuckle-for-hire; Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a disjointed, fumbling father who finds it difficult to be a good role model for his savvy daughter (Angourie Rice). Even though the two meet under more hostile terms - a scuffle that leaves Holland hilariously yelping like a kid - it's pretty clear these two are about to become best buds, even if neither of them would like to admit it.
What brings them together is the perplexing murder-suicide of fading adult film actress Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), which then leads them to pursue a missing young girl in Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Jackson and Holland follow clue after clue in tracking down Amelia, but their individual shortcomings as tough-nosed brawn and excitable alcoholic often keep them from making progress in hilarious ways.
The connection between Misty's death and Amelia's run-away? Not even the film appears to know for sure, as the screenplay never makes it quite clear what ties one with the other. Jackson and Holland's investigation just as easily perplexes us as it does them. The shortcoming is especially prominent when The Nice Guys begins to wade into "it's all a big conspiracy!" territory. A morsel: if Chinatown was all about everyone in cahoots over LA's water, then The Nice Guys does the same thing for LA's air.
However, the pseudo plot twistisn't the film's primary concern, or even its biggest selling point. What makes The Nice Guys a must-see is the quirky chemistry of Crowe and Gosling, a pair so unlike one another that they're a perfect fit. One always has a quip for the other, and they're just as much tripping over each other as they are working together. Together, they're a gut-busting comedy duo, often because of Holland's running mouth and Jackson's fists that close them. Holland, especially, is the awkward one, who holds the title of detective but whose mannerisms and attitude often say otherwise. Gosling plays this up to an incredibly fun level throughout the film, especially when he holds Jackson at gunpoint from a bathroom stall in one of the film's most comical scenes.
Gosling and Crowe are reason enough to see the film, especially when they're instrumental in making The Nice Guys an uproariously funny and nostalgic take on the buddy-cop movie - just enough to make up for how complex the screenplay can sometimes be. The action sequences are just as great, combining cartoonish violence with visual flair, one-liners, and even more physical comedy by Gosling. Black's previous experience in writing Lethal Weapon definitely shows here.
The film isn't complete or a must-see, but Jackson and Holland don't seem to concerned about it. Neither should you; just put on the rose-colored shades and enjoy the two-hour 70's throwback.
Rated R. 118 minutes.
Written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi.
Directed by Shane Black.
Starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.