With its cynical detectives, The Nice Guys is adequately neo-noir, and the 1977 setting only adds to its charm
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice
Director: Shane Black
Rating: 4 stars
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an enforcer who terrifies perverts with his muscle. Holland March (Ryan Gosling), however, isn’t quite so right-minded. A private detective by profession, he has no qualms making promises he can’t keep. Though he can see a man’s ashes rest on a mantelpiece, he assures a seemingly senile wife he’ll find her husband.
So, there you have it. Good cop, lazy cop. Director Shane Black knows well the benefits of an unlikely pairing. Before he broke a box-office record or two with Iron Man 3 (2013), he had written the stories of films such as Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout (1991). Healy and March now further their bickering buddy traditions.
Mostly drunk through the film, Ryan Gosling is both clever and delightfully silly. After the bloody, fast-paced climax, for instance, he tells Crowe, “Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.” Crowe reminds him that people did, in fact, get hurt. Then Gosling replies, “I’m saying I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.”
Gosling makes a habit of falling off balconies and terraces, and Crowe remains poker-faced as the world and his partner come crashing down. His humour is understated and is only exaggerated by the downright odd situations he finds himself in. Before breaking Gosling’s arm, he says, “When you talk to your doctor, tell him you have a spiral fracture.”
With its cynical detectives, The Nice Guys is adequately neo-noir, and the 1977 setting only adds to its charm. The film’s best part is undoubtedly its opening sequence. A boy finds an adult magazine below his parents’ bed and just as he is ogling at the centrefold, a car comes hurtling through his house and falls in a patch of green outside. The driver in question is porn actress Misty Mountains, and she asks the child who was just admiring her form, “How do you like my car, big boy?” The question is also the name of a film she has recently shot. It is “a porno where the plot is the point”.
The ‘porno’, its cast and its crew soon become the subject of Crowe’s and Gosling’s investigations. The puzzle they try and solve does have one too many pieces – pornography, pollution, corruption, murder, to name a few. The story is labyrinthine in its scope and it unfortunately distracts from the chemistry of its protagonists rather than better aiding it. In the end, however, you don’t watch a film like The Nice Guys for its storyline, you watch it for the laughs, and of that there’re thankfully plenty.
Even though the film is made wildly entertaining by Crowe’s deadpan earnestness and Gosling’s bad boy shenanigans, The Nice Guys belongs to Angourie Rice. The actor plays Holly March, Gosling’s precocious, witty and extremely likable 13-year-old daughter. She always finds a way to wiggle into the thick of the film’s action, and uses both her kindness and her smarts to save the day and win the scene.
As she comes out of the trunk of her father’s car to find herself at a porn industry party, she tells Gosling, “Dad there’s like whores here and stuff.” Gosling chastises her, “Sweetie, what did I tell you? Don’t say, and stuff. Just say, dad there are whores here.” Too bad the Censor Board has muted the word ‘whores’. Without it, the joke now falls flat on its face. When snipping a film that relied so heavily on porn and cuss words, those men with the scissors really could have been much nicer guys.