Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality, Nudity, Language and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Murielle Telio, Keith David, Kim Basinger & Beau Knapp
If you only read the synopsis for THE NICE GUYS, it sounds like a dark crime-thriller. You’d be wrong in this assumption though, because this movie is written and directed by Shane Black. He’s the guy behind movies like LETHAL WEAPON, THE LAST BOY SCOUT and KISS KISS BANG BANG. In short, Shane Black seems to have a knack for making action clichés feel fresh, creating great characters, and incorporating lots of laughs into otherwise tense plots. THE NICE GUYS combines a neo-noir thriller and a buddy cop comedy into one hugely entertaining creation. Driven by a compelling mystery, riding on the shoulders of strong characters, and boosted by a 70’s atmosphere, THE NICE GUYS is a blast!
Los Angeles, 1977. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an enforcer, willing to beat anyone to a pulp…as long as he’s being paid to do so. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an inept private investigator, who isn’t above scamming his clients and getting drunk in the morning. Healy and March cross paths due to a strange girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). What begins as a simple missing person case quickly escalates into a conspiracy connected to a porn star’s mysterious death and murderous criminals. Soon enough, Healy and March are working together, dodging bullets, screwing up, and trying their best to get to the bottom of a complicated, dangerous mystery.
THE NICE GUYS masterfully balances two very different genres. The film’s mood frequently shifts between laugh-out-loud hilarious to tense thriller territory, but never once feels like a mess. This multi-genre tone may sound difficult to execute, but Shane Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi make it look easy. Lots of laughs come from the undeniably witty dialogue, but there are over-the-top visual jokes too (e.g. a cigarette smoking bee). These moments are utterly ridiculous, but never seem to distract from the danger at hand. When this story gets dark, it gets downright bleak. This screenplay packs in a lot of surprises and one twist left me stunned for a solid five minutes.
Besides having an excellent script, THE NICE GUYS also showcases one of the best actor pairings in recent memory. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have great chemistry and play off each other in ways that feel completely natural. Each brings their own sense of comedic timing to the mix, but both are able to balance seriousness in their characters. March is a bumbling jerk with a drinking problem, but has genuine goodness in him and cares deeply for his daughter. Crowe is a hardened guy trying to do the right thing, but occasionally does very bad things along the way. NICE GUYS doesn’t pretty up these characters’ flaws or make light of them, which makes the serious moments work and the many humorous moments even more amusing.
THE NICE GUYS follows the structure of a buddy cop comedy, but purposely goes out of its way to not follow the typical conventions of that formula. On a side note, there’s something to be said for a film that includes a child sidekick and does so in a way that’s not annoying in the slightest. This character is Holly, March’s daughter, and is played to perfection by Angourie Rice. Holly is able to see the goodness in both of these men and doesn’t hesitate to point out their problems. As a result, teenage Rice manages to steal a few scenes away from Gosling and Crowe.
There is one exception to the story’s mostly non-conventional nature and that comes with a bit of revealing exposition. A couple of obvious clues give away surprises before they’ve fully been revealed. Every audience member might not immediately catch onto to these telegraphed bits, but one scene seems a bit too heavy-handed in laying them out for the viewer. However, THE NICE GUYS more than makes up for this with some of the most unlikable villains that I’ve seen in a long time. I was rooting for these bad guys to get seriously hurt as tense confrontations played out and the movie doesn’t disappoint in bloodletting as the comeuppances are beyond satisfying in their over-the-top violence.
The 70’s atmosphere and great soundtrack are merely icing on the cake. THE NICE GUYS juggles multiple genres, rides on well-developed characters, and is bound to get you laughing. It’s simultaneously hilarious and suspenseful, which are two words that you don’t often hear in describing one film. The chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is perfect! I sincerely hope that we get to spend even more time with them in a potential sequel. If you want a mystery that doesn’t skimp on the suspense and a comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish, THE NICE GUYS lives up to its title in being nice…and then some!