Now playing at a multiplex near you:
THE NICE GUYS (Dir. Shane Black, 2016)
Writer/director Shane Black follows up the biggest hit of his career, IRON MAN 3, by steering back into his hard R-rated rude, crude action comedy comfort zone in THE NICE GUYS, a buddy detective film that’s up there with his funniest work.
It scores with the inspired casting of two guys not normally known for making audiences laugh: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who respectively play grizzled enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy and scruffy private eye Holland March.
Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the film follows Healy and March as they are thrown together to solve a case involving the apparent suicide of porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), a missing girl named Ameila (Margaret Qualley), who’s mistaken for the dead X-rated actress, and the possibly corrupt head of the Department of Justice (Kim Basinger), who’s Amelia’s mother.
Despite March’s protests, the duo are joined by Angourie Rice as the private dick’s precocious daughter Holly, who is much smarter than her incredibly clumsy, constantly drunk father, so while she’s putting leads together, he’s falling off balconies.
Winding through the prerequisite fist fights, car chases, and shoot-outs, is Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi’s deftly hilarious dialogue which I bet will help make this be as quoted as Black’s LETHAL WEAPON, KISS KISS BANG BANG and even THE LAST BOY SCOUT scripts in the anals of film geek fandom.
While highly comical, the film boasts a serious action villain in the dapper, cold as ice, mafia hitman John Boy (Matt Bomer) who arrives on the scene with a trunk full of automatic guns targeting Healy and March.
At times it seems like Black wanted to make his version of an pre-THE BIG SHORT Adam McKay movie, replacing Will Farrell and whatever co-star (John C. Reilly? Mark Whalberg?) with Crowe and Gosling, retaining the ‘70s-era satire, albeit in a much lesser surreal vein, of the ANCHORMAN movies but operating from a much grittier level.
Actually maybe it’s more like the 1974 buddy comedy FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, in which Alan Arkin and James Caan play mismatched detectives who get entangled with the mob – that vibe is pretty strong too.
The attention to period detail from the smog-filled sky to the roster on the marquee of LA’s famous marquee The Comedy Store, coupled with a soundtrack full of primo ‘70s rock and R&B, effectively sets the mood and tone even despite the fact that every song – from “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” to “A Horse With No Name” has been used countless times in movies before. The same could be said for the soundtrack to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.
THE NICE GUYS is a Shane Black blast with the funniest performances of both Crowe and Gosling’s career. Crowe’s weathered, jaded persona contrasts hilariously with Gosling’s haphazard demeanor in scene after scene, and with the talented 14-year old Rice added to the mix, the film overflows with comic chemistry.
The only slight misstep here is the overly restated shading of political commentary dealing with the intertwined conspiracy involving the Big Three Detroit automakers. This also has an Adam McKay-ish ring to it. No matter though really, THE NICE GUYS is smart enough to know how to be dumb and that transcends that bit of heavy handiness.