In 1977 Los Angeles, a freelance enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) hires a deadbeat incompetent P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to help find a missing teenager whose disappearance seems to be linked to the recent death of a popular porn star. However their investigation makes them targets of among others a pair of hit-men played by Beau Knapp and the always awesome Keith David, signalling that a larger conspiracy is at work.
This film does a really good job of immersing you in the time period. From the visual style of the environment and characters, to the frequent colour schemes, and especially the small details. Like when it shows a TV broadcast that’s very grainy or a headline about Richard Nixon. Not to mention ads for Jaws 2, and the likes of Richard Lewis and Tim Allen performing as newcomers at the Comedy Store.
The story itself though a decent mystery is peppered with every cliché of the buddy cop genre. The pairing of opposite personalities, the troubled backstories, one character’s bad habits, multiple shoot-outs where the bad guys seem to have exceptionally poor aim, etc. There’s even lazy exposition, and character conveyed through voice over narration, which though not used a lot is still jarring because both characters provide it making for an inconsistent perspective. The plot itself however takes twists and turns, and while there are definitely story beats that feel derivative of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang such as a kidnapping, an accidental major injury, and a theme of sexual exploitation, it’s still original enough to hold its own.
I think the main thing that allows The Nice Guys to overcome all its buddy movie tropes is its sense of humour. There are a lot of really good jokes and funny situations in this movie, coming mostly from the acting and writing. Gosling is very enjoyable in how inept his character is, while Crowe though not as funny, shows he can be a surprisingly decent comedy actor. Like in any good buddy movie, the chemistry between the leads is vital and these two are great together. They’re given a lot of good banter to work with though, the writing is superb. Again, Black knows this genre, and his tongue-in-cheek approach to the dialogue, characters, and the set-ups keeps the film constantly entertaining and the audience constantly engaged with the mystery. He knows what the audience expects with a scenario which makes it all the more thrilling when he does something interesting or funny with it. Many of the supporting actors like Knapp, David, Margaret Qualley, Matt Bomer, and Kim Basinger do a good job, but the particular stand-out is Angourie Rice as Holland’s meddling daughter Holly who pretty much becomes Penny Gadget, assisting in the investigation and often times proving herself more capable than her father. She stole a lot of her scenes, and I look forward to seeing her again if this becomes a series as the film clearly wants it to be.
If you’ve been looking for an action-comedy that’s really fun and hasn’t been seen in a while, The Nice Guys certainly won’t disappoint. Of course any movie opening opposite the insanely puerile Angry Birds Movie is bound to be really good, but The Nice Guys certainly earns that seal of approval. If nothing else it’s very different next to all the bigger franchise movies this summer, and is a welcome and very fun reprieve from that usual summer fare.