REVIEW: The Nice Guys
Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger
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…The Nice Guys is a blast…
For his third at-bat directing, Lethal Weapon scribe, Shane Black, returns to the buddy comedy formula that has served him so well for the ‘70s set actioner, The Nice Guys. Of course, Black employs a certain kind of comedy, and the best adjective for it is also his surname. In Shane’s world, everyone is venal, corrupt, broken, or just plain evil – although they do tend to keep up a constant stream of witty repartee in between the violence, the brooding, and the drinking. Even Black’s heroes are just a rung or two up the ladder from his villains – take alcoholic PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who keeps himself in booze and wide ties by taking missing person jobs from naively hopeful old ladies, or Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a big-gutted, rough-knuckled enforcer who keeps trying to improve his vocabulary when he’s not dismantling people for profit.
These two cross paths when March is hired to find a missing girl and Healy is hired to make him stop. Except the girl is not the girl that March was hired to find – she’s dead, and the reason has something to do with catalytic converters. And pornography. The point being, there is a girl, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), and some very bad men (Keith David and Beau Knapp) will kill her unless Healy and March find her first. Carnage and quips ensue.
The plot, as you can probably tell from the preceding paragraph, is a rambling mess, (barely) held together with coincidences and intuitive leaps. Still, so what? Plot didn’t matter much to Raymond Chandler, either. What is important is attitude and style, and The Nice Guys drips with it. For all that, there’s depth here, too. The film’s engine is in the constant verbal jab-and-parry between its two leads, but its heart lies in the way that it shows just how broken these two screw-ups are. March is a self-destructive drunk who fell apart after his wife either walked out or died on him, a man so non-functional that he gets his 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), to chauffeur him around when he’s too messed up to drive. Healy, on the other hand, seems to be the loneliest man on earth, living in an apartment above the famous Comedy Store just so he doesn’t have to endure the crushing silence between doling out beatings. For both of them, saving Amelia means some kind of redemption.
That’s all deeper stuff, though – on a pure visceral level, The Nice Guys is a blast: violent, sleazy and sexy in that very specific late ‘70s way, and hysterically funny. It’s not just the crackling dialogue, either; Gosling shows considerable skill at physical comedy, and Crowe speaks volumes with his deadpan exasperation. Although the pace flags in places, you’re never bored, and it’s down to the chemistry between these two – plus Rice, who holds her own as the moral centre of the film. When the smoke has cleared and the last body has dropped, you’re left with a solution to a criminal conspiracy that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but you also know that you’ve had a real good time. The Nice Guys is not the instant classic that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was, but it’s a whole heap of fun.