The Nice Guys is to LA crime stories what Deadpool is to superhero flicks: at once a celebration and a send-up. That’s just the kind of storytelling moviegoers have come to expect from Shane Black, who directed the film and co-wrote it. Black has a history of blending irreverence and violence going all the way back to his legendary script for Lethal Weapon (1987). However, Black didn’t become a name until the release of Iron Man 3, which saw a lukewarm reaction from fans.
Several years before that Marvel film, Black made his directorial debut, with the black comedy/noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is great. In many ways, The Nice Guys feels like a spiritual successor to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. With twisty detective plots, style to spare, comedy as black as night, and a plethora of interesting characters, the films would make for a great double feature, and they showcase exactly where Black’s directorial strengths lie. Is this a family film? No way. Does it include scenes that some may find painful to watch? You bet. Will you be entertained? Thoroughly.
The Nice Guys takes place against the backdrop of Los Angeles circa 1977, where not-so-lucky private investigator and single father Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired by the elderly Mrs. Glenn on a case that involves her niece, Misty Mountains, a famous porn star whom Mrs. Glenn claims to have seen alive, even after her much publicized (apparent) suicide. March is quite skeptical of the whole thing but needs whatever work he can find. He agrees to take the job and begins an investigation that leads him to a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). However, this also puts Holland in the crosshairs of Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe), the muscle-for-hire who Amelia recruited to pressure Holland into dropping his investigation.
Soon, they deduce that there’s more going on with this case than meets the eye. Healy in turn hires Holland – with his young daughter Holly (Played by Angourie Rice who reminds me of a young Jodi Foster) along for the ride – to track down Amelia and find out if there really is a larger conspiracy at work. However, in a city that’s as dirty as Los Angeles, knowing who and what you can trust isn’t easy, even for a savvy pair of “nice guys”.
The delightful onscreen chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make it easier to overlook some of the narrative flaws. Crowe is not the actor I would have immediately chosen as the burly and cynical Healy, but he is an effective straight-man opposite Gosling’s entertaining and bumbling (and occasionally inebriated) private investigator. It is good to see Gosling to play a comedic role, a refreshing change of pace from some of his recent dour and relatively silent performances in dramas like Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. The pair play quite well off one another through the variety of scenarios, whether they be serious, graphically violent or pitch-dark comedic in their nature. Sometimes, The Nice Guys gives us all three within a single sequence.
Angourie Rice as Holly, Holland’s daughter, helps to give The Nice Guys some needed heart through the relationship that she forms with Healy. The Holly character is, in many ways, the true hero of Nice Guys, as she not only serves as Healy’s conscience, but also helps to keep her dad afloat – in both his personal life and his career – even when it involves her having to put herself in danger. The film’s ensemble cast is nicely rounded out by character actors playing less-developed, but all the same key roles in the movie’s mystery narrative. That includes Margaret Qualley as the mysterious “girl in question,” Amelia; Kim Basinger (Crowe’s former L.A. Confidential costar) as Amelia’s mother, Judith Kuttner; Keith David and Beau Knapp as the goons “Old Guy” and “Blueface”; and Matt Bomer as a deadly hit-man who is referred to by others as “John Boy”.
Are in the mood for a change of pace from the mainstream tentpoles now playing in theaters? Have you been looking for another dark comedy like Deadpool for a while? You may find The Nice Guys to be to your liking. The Nice Guys is rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use. Have you seen it? Do you like other Shane Black films? Let me know what you thought of the film in the comments section.