Against a backdrop of 1970s Los Angeles, private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer for hire Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe) navigate the seedy party scene of the city’s porno industry, trying to track down any connection between the disappearance of a young woman and the apparent suicide of an adult film actress. Along for the ride is March’s teen daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who proves herself to be both a challenge and a godsend for the dysfunctional duo.
The Nice Guys is the latest neo-noir, crime-comedy from writer/director Shane Black, who first came on the scene in the late 1980s with buddy-action-comedies like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, then branched out into directing with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Though some (like myself) may be most familiar with Black for his work on Marvel’s Iron Man 3 – a frequently derided installment in the franchise, but if I were to be perfectly honest, may be my favorite of the Iron Man films.
Co-written with Anthony Baragrozzi, The Nice Guys is already being heralded as the “Shane Black-est of all the Shane Black movies,” which again, means very little to me, but arguably provides a good lens through which the film can be viewed. If you’ve enjoyed Black’s movies in the past, with their darkly humorous twists on crime genre tropes and punchy dialogue delivered in the heat of the moment, then The Nice Guys is sure to please. Yet even if you aren’t coming to this film with any deep love or appreciation of Black’s oeuvre, The Nice Guys is still an uproariously funny comedy, pitting its leads against each other and the hurdles of their investigation in deliriously weird and unexpected ways.
The real charm of The Nice Guys lies in the chemistry between Crowe and Gosling. The pair turn out to be a surprisingly funny together, something that about a decade ago – when Crowe was lingering in a post-Gladiator decline and Gosling’s biggest role was in the sickeningly sweet The Notebook – wouldn’t have seemed possible. Here they make good use playing off their typical screen personalities, with Gosling’s March being the real loser of the two, repeatedly failing as both a detective and a father, while it’s Crowe’s Healey who’s the more honorable, wanting a purpose in life that let’s him both help and beat the living daylights out of people.
There’s also a good amount of physical comedy that is never quite slapstick, but sure involves a lot of Gosling getting injured in ridiculously funny ways. And you may never have thought you needed to see Russell Crowe do a spit take, but, yeah, you need to see Crowe do a spit take. So many of these beats come at completely unexpected moments, too, which only adds to the humor in a situation when it goes off in some unseen direction or cuts suddenly.
For a film that is downright hilarious is many unexpected, surprising ways, the real shock may come from how large a role the young Angourie Rice has to play. There’s certainly some unpacking that can be done concerning the roles women play in this film, but Rice’s turn as the young teen Holly may be the most fascinating. She’s at times a damsel, other times the hero, but always the smartest character in room between Healey’s dumb and Marsh’s dumber. She plays off both Crowe and Gosling with an maturity you wouldn’t expect from someone so young, making her an actress to watch for in the future.
(Additionally, it’s pretty clear Black is an exceptional director when it comes to child actors, having previously gotten a great performance from Ty Simpkins (who cameos in this film) during Iron Man 3 when the same could not be said of his role in Jurassic World.)
Whether a fan of Shane Black or just looking for a really funny R-rated comedy (now that Deadpool is no longer theaters), you really can’t go wrong with The Nice Guys. I mean, what else were you planning to see this weekend? The Angry Birds Movie? Yeah right!