THE NICE GUYS
By Liz Casanova
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Matt Bomer, Angourie Rice and Kim Basinger
Written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi
Directed by Shane Black
Running time 1h 56min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
You take the good, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), you take the bad, Jack Healey (Russell Crowe), you take porn and murder, and there you have The Nice Guys, a testosterone-driven film directed and co-written by Shane Black. If the script feels as familiar as an 80s action buddy film, it might be because Black wrote the script for Lethal Weapon and was a character advisor for Lethal Weapon 2 and 3. Black hasn't lost that touch for pumping his characters with masculine charisma and gritty verve.
Black knows that the first rule of magic screenwriting is to get the audience interested within the first five minutes. Done. A car crash and a dead porn star in LA in the 70s sets the stage for a sexy and delicious mystery. Enter Holland March, a kind of half-ass, boozy, doe-eyed private investigator who seems to suffer the same condition as Inspector Jacques Clouseau (this is a Pink Panther reference). Like Clouseau, Holland is clumsy, gets himself in all kinds of trouble and barely survives. In fact, it's the buffoonery that seems to keep him alive. Jack Healy is a meaner PI who people like to hire when things need to get a little more dirty. Their meet cute is the manly blind date where Jack is hired to beat the crap out of Holland, and the bromance includes violence and some saucy trash talk.
Soon they realize that they have a common goal – find out who killed porn star Misty Mountains. Permission to giggle. They also start relying on the wisdom of Holland's precocious teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). Her character is definitely more like Penny from Inspector Gadget. Her presence is not only a representation of a higher moral ground and innocence, it's also a nice nod to all those 80s films that have that kid who always seems to assist in saving the day. Black has an affection for these young characters. He did, after all, co-write Last Action Hero.
The joke too is that no one, except for maybe Holly, is that nice. Holland is a scammer and Jack will kill anyone in a heartbeat if he's paid for it. Even Amelia (Margaret Qualley), the girl who they are hired to find and protect, is not likeable at all. She's a terrible person. But it's refreshing. Anti-heroes are always best when off-color and playful humor is involved.
The Nice Guys works because the dialog is substantial. There are so many funny lines, and the chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is palpable. This is the a reason why these "nice guys" are paid the big bucks. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Crowe revealed the level of detail he and Gosling put in to each scene as far as movement and delivery. It shows because they make it look easy. It's also simply a purely entertaining movie. One gets the sense that Black wrote the script when he was a wide-eyed teenager, throwing in all the sex, guns and wise guy humor the kid could possibly stuff in a script. And then as an adult he found it sitting in a box somewhere, fixed it up a bit and hand-delivered it to a Warner Bros exec. I imagine someone was smoking a cigar.
The film does have its flaws. The plot is ridiculous and at a certain point it starts feeling like a Jean-Claude Van Damme film, sans the martial arts. Anyone who pays attention to the obvious clues will figure out who the real bad guy is. Also, the attempt to slip in a social message is a little confusing. Is it suppose to be a farce? Or should we take the environmentalist message seriously? My advice is go with farce, and you'll enjoy the movie much more. And just when you feel you can start gathering up your things to leave, you get 20 more minutes of plot twist. But it's not really a plot twist since, as mentioned earlier, you already figured it out.
But don't write The Nice Guys off. There is enough comedy and "nice" times to keep you thoroughly entertained. It's a big budget Hollywood film, but one that is good enough to enjoy in the theater on a Saturday morning – with a little flask full of whiskey tucked in your coat.