Film: The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Primary Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Beau Knapp, Margaret Qualley, Lois Smith
US Release Date: 20 May 2016
In 1977 Los Angeles, Jackson Healy (Crowe) beats up people for money. Meanwhile, Holland March is a single father to his daughter Holly (Rice). March makes his living working as a private investigator, but he’s not too concerned with actually solving cases, and most of his jobs seems to involve unsavory photos.
Following the death of porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), March is hired by her aunt (Smith). Around the same time, a young woman named Amelia (Qualley) hires Healy to take care of two men who’ve been following her. Thanks to a misunderstanding and a good deal of coincidence, Healy attacks March instead of the actual thugs (Knapp and David), who later attack Healy as he is entering his apartment.
Afterwards, Healy goes to March and offers to pay him for his PI services. Though March is reluctant, the two team up. As the film continues, their respective cases merge, grow, and transform into a single convoluted and increasingly dangerous mystery involving Amelia, Misty Mountains, a porn film, air pollution, Detroit, a family squabble, birds, and far-reaching political corruption.
When I first saw the trailer for The Nice Guys, the presence of Crowe and Gosling had me intrigued immediately. The fact that the film advertised itself as “from the director of Iron Man 3,” however, did nothing to excite me. Then, I remembered that Shane Black also adapted and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), and I became genuinely interested in The Nice Guys once more.
The Nice Guys is not a perfect or particularly noteworthy film, but it is an incredibly fun one, and it is sure to become a personal favorite for many. This buddy cop comedy is lively and it transitions between violence, slapstick, and clever dialogue in a smooth, effortlessness, and entertaining way. In fact, The Nice Guy’s combination of humor, remarkable energy, and a certain ease all result in a film that is pretty difficult not to like—even when it’s tone is inconsistent and its plot is as a clear as mud. Moreover, while Black’s script does suffer from a number of issues, the film’s strong leads provide more than enough personality to disguise most of The Nice Guys’s deficiencies.
Between The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s pretty clear that Black is Hollywood’s king of the offbeat buddy comedy. Not only does Black clearly enjoy the genres he riffs on, but he also delights in crafting engaging, humorous dialogue between his leads, and he is quite good at fostering strong, dynamic chemistry between likable, multi-dimensional characters. Though I’d prefer if it wasn’t, an entire franchise could be built around Jackson Healy and Holland March; for, not only are Crowe and Gosling that good, but so is much of Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi’s writing. The Nice Guys may spend a good deal of its time killing and clowning, but it also gives the oddball duo at its center more depth than one might expect. Even if some of this depth comes via various throwaway lines and other seemingly inconsequential details, it stills pays off for the most part.
While Black and Bagarozzi deserve a fair amount of credit for the strength of the film’s lead characters, Crowe and Gosling may deserve even more. Both of them do a solid job in the film, and they play off of each other beautifully. While each actor does perfectly fine in isolation, The Nice Guys repeatedly benefits from the fact that they are even better together. That said, it’s also worth noting that—with or without Crowe—Gosling is even better at this sort of comedic acting than he is at anything else (which is saying something).
The Nice Guys is a film with personality, and its top-billed cast members keep it enjoyable even when its other aspects falter. The film is fun and full of jokes. It’s also a little unhinged (in a good way). Additionally, the film’s comedy stems from over-the-top violence, slapstick, and conversations alike, which gives audiences more than enough to take delight in as the film unfolds before them.
That said, while Black throws a lot at the wall over the course of the film, it doesn’t all come together into a cohesive or particularly purposeful whole. The ride is thrilling, but the end result doesn’t live up the journey. And while viewers are given a good deal to work with—or to write fanfiction about—as far as Healy and March are concerned, the rest of the film is mostly surface.
Black’s repeated attempts to give his violent, brash, and largely lighthearted comedy a bit of real heart don’t usually work either. In fact, several more sentimental moments feel forced and interrupt the tone of the film, which detracts from its stronger scenes. On a related note, Rice’s role should have been trimmed a bit since some of her lines feel awkward, and her presence adds unnecessary length to this rather sprawling film.
While watching The Nice Guys, I repeatedly found myself wishing that it were darker and more irreverent. The film is far from optimistic, and it isn’t exactly ordinary, but it doesn’t take certain aspects of its humor far enough. At the same time, it also fails to commit to clear tone, and it doesn’t push the envelope with enough vigor. As bold as some moments in the film are, a hint of timidity and a shade too much commerciality prevent The Nice Guys from being as singular or as remarkable as it could have been.
While the film’s overall structure is somewhat formulaic, the precise details of the plot are not terribly predictable. The film takes wild and comedic turns quite frequently, but clarity and coherence are sacrificed as a result. The Nice Guys is driven by characters and comedy, but that doesn’t change the fact that the plot is a mess. It’s hard to follow and it doesn’t always make sense. But it also doesn’t matter all that much. It’d be nice if the mystery that Healy, Holly, and March work to solve were a little less inscrutable, but the plot is also not the point, and any issues with it are not too difficult to forgive. Unfortunately, the film pairs its muddy plot with a desperate need for sharper focus and tighter editing. In fact, if the film were revised a time or two, it could have been much better, and knowing that makes it hard not to feel shorted by Black, regardless of how good Crowe and Gosling are.
The Nice Guys is not as quite impressive as it is fun, and the more one thinks about some of its finer details, the flimsier it seems. However, it still sits firmly above average as far as Hollywood comedies are concerned, and it will provide most viewers with plenty of laughs and smiles. With its creative energy, its varied sense of humor, and its slick 70s vibe, The Nice Guys offers audiences a chance to sit back and have a good time. With some editing and a few more screenplay revisions, The Nice Guys could have been a truly notable action comedy. As it stands, it’s a funny an enjoyable film that boasts two engaging and interesting characters at its center and that is buoyed by strong, likable performances.
For what it’s worth, the film also renewed my love for all things Gosling. So, thanks for that, Shane Black.
Until Next Time
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