Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a slapstick film noir that takes place in the 70s? That doesn’t sound like a movie; that sounds like a Mad Lib that is so ludicrous that it isn’t even funny. And yet those are the keywords that best describe the new film The Nice Guys that is co-written and directed by Shane Black. And as improbable as it is, The Nice Guys mostly works thanks to the chemistry of the two stars and their willingness to go all in on this project. The Nice Guys has a few problems, but it’s still a movie that is worth the occasional bump in the road.
Director Shane Black is no stranger to the odd couple, action/comedy genre, having cut his teeth in the industry on films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. For The Nice Guys, he places the story in 1970s Los Angeles; Holland March (Gosling) is a two-bit alcoholic private investigator who tries, but mostly fails to be a good father to his 13 year old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) and Jackson Healy (Crowe) is a guy who beats people up for a living and longs to have some sort of purpose in this world. An investigation of the death of a porn star and the disappearance of a young girl brings these two men into collision and they wind up teaming up together to try to unravel the many layers of the case. Kim Basinger and Matt Bomer also appear.
Now, The Nice Guys had two things going for it from my perspective right out of the gate. I am a sucker for movies set in the 1970s; I have no idea why, but this particular time period I find aesthetically pleasing when depicted on film. This is kind of odd since while I did live through some portion of the seventies, I was too young to really remember any of it. So if it is some semblance of nostalgia, it is misplaced or faux. All I know is that if you have a soundtrack that is heavy on the hits of the 70s and some ridiculous clothing and hairstyles, I’m ready to meet you half way. I’m also a big fan of when filmmakers see the comedic potential of Ryan Gosling. That dude is a funny guy, but he is too rarely given the chance to flex his comedic muscles. Perhaps it is because he is also aesthetically pleasing that people assume that he doesn’t also possess good comedy timing, like that would somehow be an embarrassment of riches (see also Jon Hamm). In The Nice Guys, Gosling gets his chance to prove what he can do and he doesn’t disappoint. He’s better at absurd humor than most people give him credit for; he pulls off scenes in this movie that reminds me of what Lou Costello would do.
Gosling’s comedy game is only elevated by his pairing with Crowe, as the two play beautifully off each other. Crowe/Gosling is not a duo that I would have organically come up with, but their chemistry is just off the charts. Crowe really takes to the role of Healy and it’s perhaps his most likable performance in recent memory. While I had some inkling that Gosling could pull off some of the more slapstick-y aspects of The Nice Guys, I was completely unaware of what Crowe was capable of. He’s mostly known for his dramatic roles and the last time he strayed from that (the musical Les Miserables) it wasn’t exactly a home run. Apparently Crowe has been hiding his sense of humor, since his performance works just as well as Gosling’s and performs a nice counterbalance. Newcomer Angourie Rice makes her role as Gosling’s precocious daughter much more than it could have been and serves as the moral center of the film as well as a method for softening up the tough guy antics of Crowe and, to a lesser degree, Gosling. The trio make for an unconventional but amusing team.
The Nice Guys doesn’t skimp on the violence and mayhem; there are plenty of car chases, gun fights and explosions to more than hold up the action component of the action/comedy mashup. The action sequences are entertaining, but they also help to mask one of the issues with The Nice Guys – the plot. The deeper that they get into the investigation, the more muddled and confusing it all becomes. There are definitely some leaps of faith that have to be made on the part of the audience and The Nice Guys works best if you can think of their case as one giant McGuffin. The less that you think about it, the more enjoyable the film is. The pacing is also a little off, as things are chugging along just fine until the final act, where they try to cram too much story into a short amount of time. There are also some occasional moments that drag, where jokes don’t quite land or last a beat too long.
Some other random thoughts….
- Gosling’s mustache in this film is an endless source of amusement for me.
- This exchange also was particularly funny to me:
Holland: Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.
Healy: People got hurt.
Holland: I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.
- Considering that the porn industry is a plot point in the film, there is less sex and nudity than you would expect in The Nice Guys. But it is there (especially in the opening scene), if that is a concern.
- I’ll be interested to see what else young Angourie Rice does in the future. She steals a lot of scenes.
- Warner Brothers released this cute animated short for the film:
- Gosling and Crowe have been on quite the publicity tour for this movie, which is usually a red flag for me. However, it appears that the blitz for The Nice Guys is the exception to that rule. Perhaps they just like spending time together.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Nice Guys, but it wound up being a pleasant surprise. My mileage with absurd and slapstick humor is probably lower than the average viewer, but I still found a lot to like about the film. Gosling and Crowe are an unpredictably strong comedic pairing and they each serve to bring out the best in their co-star. There’s a lot of silliness and plenty of action; don’t think too much about the complexities of the case and The Nice Guys is a fun night at the cinema.
The Nice Guys opens nationwide today.