The Nice Guys: Film Review
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger
Director: Shane Black
A veritable shaggy dog crime story, The Nice Guys sees Iron Man 3 director Shane Black given carte blanche to run riot on a canvas that's decked out in 70s life writ large on the big screen.
Gosling and Crowe star as down on his luck PI Holland March and literal heavy weight street enforcer Jackson Healy respectively, whose paths cross when Healy warns March off a case he's investigating.
But forced to team up by a twist of fate, the duo end up looking into the death of a porn star in 70s Los Angeles and finding their initial line of enquiry leads them deep into the heart of a conspiracy.
There's a goofiness and a Shane Black meta approach that nearly overwhelms The Nice Guys, covering its smarts and dumbness in equal knowing nods and winks that at times, detracts from what's going on on the big screen.
Swathed in gorgeous period detail (from the 70s fashion to billboards for Jaws 2 and Airport 77), this is a film that gets great parts of its execution spot on, even if the central story is as thin and its ultimate reveal as obvious as you'd suspect.
Fortunately though, the chemistry between the mismatched duo is impeccable.
Gosling demonstrates a gift for goofier physical comedy and pratfalls that's well utilised - but Black's smart enough to have ensured that the sensitive yet easily scared March is no dumb klutz caught in the middle of it all (even if the power of coincidence propels large swathes of the actual plot along for great stretches of it for no real reason other than to ensure the narrative continues). Equally, March's interactions with his slightly smarter than him daughter (played with a great amount of heart by Rice) are charming and round off March's character nicely.
But if Gosling's jokier edges are as successful, it's due in large part to Crowe's heavier set straight guy.
As Healy, with a substantial bulk around the stomach, Crowe's weariness and hinted-at-back story is used lightly and consequently more effectively, as he moves into the family unit of March and his daughter.
It gives him greater dramatic weight, but also feels perfect for an enforcer lost in a city that's on the edge of change. (And the allegory of being stuck in a smog ridden LA is not lost on the guy, who's clearly choking for resonance in a changing world and who opines poignantly at one point that "just for a moment, I felt useful").
However, The Nice Guys is a film that's never below peppering its dialogue with laugh-out-loud zingers, physical comedy and typical Black dialogue and banter between the leads to power proceedings.
(Even if Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Black's treatment of the women in this time period is slightly off-putting and panders to lazy sleazy stereotypes, his encapsulation of the era is spot on and perhaps in channeling that vibe, and under today's watchful eyes, potentially is why its anti-PCness stands out a little more).
Ultimately, The Nice Guys is an impressively retro throwback to the buddy-cop movies of yesteryear and is buoyed by some meta touches and some sizzling comic chemistry. It's just a shame that the film noir central story is merely the garnish on the side of this dish, rather than the dramatic meat to nourish what is a good time at the cinema.