by Michael B. Hock
I love the mismatched buddy comedy. They have a long tradition in America, from the old vaudeville acts of early cinema, the “Road to…” movies, to the more modern ones like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, Rush Hour, The Heat, or the criminally underrated Hollywood Homicide. Pairing up two talented actors and letting them play off each other just has a certain charm. I’m extremely happy to say that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys continues this tradition by playing off all the old tropes and adding his distinct eye and attention to detail.
The Nice Guys is set in the 1970’s stars Ryan Gosling as Holland March, who is either one of the best private eyes in L.A., or one of the worst. Part of the fun is the ambiguity of whether he stumbles into each new lead by sheer dumb luck or with an air of knowing what he’s doing. It also stars with Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy, an enforcer initially hired to get him to stop tailing Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), a lead in a case he’s currently working. Together, the two stumble from one lead to the next, uncovering a conspiracy involving a Porn Movie, the Justice Department, and the Detroit Auto Industry
Let’s face it, this is just a fun film. Yes there are some dramatic moments. The movie starts out with the apparent suicide of a porn star, but even that scene is a wonderful foreshadowing of what to come, and show’s Director Shane Black’s deft eye for detail. As a young boy finds a porn magazine that features actress Misty Mountains moves to the scene of her suicide, her body placed in a same position with very different contexts in mind. Even the Amelia, a crusader to fight smog in L.A., spends most of the movie dressed in a canary-yellow dress, warning people of the death that is coming. It’s the little details like this that really help level this movie up from a typical buddy comedy.
One of the best things about this film is the fact that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are playing their types – Gosling as a charismatic private eye, Crowe as a tough guy – but they still manage to do it in the most out of character style possible. Crowe’s old school, out of shape Healy is almost too polite as he roughs up the people he’s supposed to rough up. A great scene early on has him negotiating with March’s 13 year old daughter, showing that he really will take on the case for money, and asking that ultimate question of whether or not he is a nice guy or not. Ryan Gosling spends much of the film in an ultra-goofy mode, trying to play it cool next to Healy’s much cooler enforcer. But he still gives off that charm that makes it remarkably believable that people would still believe he is good at his job. It rivals (but doesn’t completely beat) Everybody Wants Some for a movie I didn’t want to end because it meant no longer spending time with the characters.
The movie also moves quickly, even in the more dramatic moments, like the reveal that March’s home previously burned down, and they were in a rental. It doesn’t spend too long on smaller details, like the fact that for some reason March and his daughter weren’t supposed to be living in the house they were living in, or Healy’s reasons for not drinking or his wife leaving him. These are doled out deftly, just in time to return to the major plot.
The biggest compliment I have for this movie is that it takes it’s 1970’s setting seriously. There aren’t many winks (except towards the end when March comments that in five years “we’ll all be driving electric cars from Japan”.) to the time period or setting, as many movies set in the past like to do. (Even Shakespeare in Love has a Titus Andronicus joke early on.) No, as soon as the credits roll, it DeLoreans you back in time to the 1970’s and happily keeps you there for the movie’s runtime.
There’s really no way to say it other than this movie is just fun. Probably the most fun of the summer so far. If I were you, I’d check it out, and I hope to see you in one of the many times I go back to see it.