By Kyle G. King. “To solve the crime of the century, they’ll have to play nice.” But in Shane Black’s newest action-comedy The Nice Guys, the word ‘nice’ is quickly established as a somewhat subjective expression. Two A-list hunks (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) team up in a fresh 1970’s LA not-so-buddy-cop throwback that subverts the noir detective caper without ever truly betraying the noir detective caper. (Even though noir detectives tend to be betrayed quite often, when you think about it)
Jackson Healy (Crowe) is the muscle you ask around about when you have a problem that needs solving — so long as that problem is human and the solution is having their ass kicked. But when his latest case takes a U-turn, Healy is forced to revisit one particular ‘ass kicked,’ in the form of drunkard private investigator Holland March (Gosling). As the two not-so nice guys investigate a missing persons case, they begin to find themselves in increasingly not-so nice company. In a loving ode to seedy 1970’s Los Angeles, porn, drugs and tacky sport coats are the backdrop in Shane Black’s slapstick-with-sunglasses. It’s Blues Brothers meets Chinatown with plenty of Ryan Gosling screaming like a goat in between.
After a ridiculous opening scene that brazenly declares “anything can happen,” nearly anything and everything does occur within its loose two-hour runtime. As the dick duo swim with mermaids, interrogate phonies, and bribe a pre-teen who is obsessed with showing people his, um… it becomes impossible to prepare for what ludicrous scenarios could possibly come next. Crisp screenwriting (provided by Black and newcomer Anthony Bagarozzi) give Crowe and Gosling plenty to sink their perfect teeth into — and thankfully anytime the material takes itself too seriously, Black throws a proverbial cream pie into the face of Gosling’s perfect face. The absurd tone remains palatable due in great part to the spin of its 1970’s LA (aided beautifully by top class costume and production design) and even more so by the bozo/straight-man routine of Gosling/Crowe. Their playful energy with the material oozes with beautiful contagion.
But while March does the drinking and Healy does the punching, March’s teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, holding her own) actually does the best real sleuthing of the trio. The women at play truly end up being far more in the know than the two alleged detectives — including Kim Basinger as the woman who hires the nice guys, and Yaya DaCosta as the woman who nearly does the opposite. It’s also refreshing to see more screentime with Margaret Qualley (as the missing person) and Beau Knapp (as the blue faced idiot hitman), as both actors do plenty with small roles to prove that they deserve more work in present-time Hollywood.
Against the grain of the popular expression, The Nice Guys certainly won’t finish last in its opening weekend– the film has the (mutton) chops to compete with this month’s cinematic gauntlet of angry birds, books filled with jungle animals, and a whole bunch of punchy superhumans. Even though trouble seems to have a way of finding these titular “nice” guys, nobody should have any trouble finding a heck of a good time in this early summer hit. You’d do well to pair it with a smuggled half-pint of your preferred rum.
Directed by Shane Black.
Produced by Joel Silver.
Written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi.
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David and Kim Basinger.
Rated R because it’s a goddamned Shane Black movie.
8.5 out of 10