Writer/director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) has a way of writing flawed characters who manage to leave more lasting impressions than the films they populate. But where he shines is when he can thrust these flawed individuals into the confines of a detective story. Most people grew their fondness for Black and his quick-wit dialogue when he first penned Lethal Weapon, but for me it goes back to The Monster Squad and The Last Boy Scout, where I found myself becoming a fan even in my early years of film watching. So is the fanboy in me excited to see what Black brings to the table this time around? You betcha!
In a summer popcorn season filled with comic book movies, sequels, and other films targeting the teenage demographic, it’s nice to have an action film that harkens back to the good old days (the ’80s and early ’90s) for a fun action/comedy romp that has a foul-mouthed edge.
It’s 1977 Los Angeles, where the headlines at the time were filled with the dangers of all the smog in the air. This is the backdrop for a story that kicks off with the mysterious death of famous porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Despite all the headlines, her mother refuses to believe she’s dead so she’s hired Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to find out what really happened to her precious little girl. Working on a case of his own, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a muscle for hire who is given the job of helping a young girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) get rid of some men that are after her. It doesn’t take long before both March and Healy find themselves working together, as their cases seem to be connected.
March is still recovering from the loss of his wife and, as a result, has been drinking (a lot). His scene-stealing daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) is there to help keep his head above water. As Holly takes on the caretaker role — at times even being her dad’s driver during investigations — she’s a piece of the puzzle that keeps March and Healy together, as well as their consciences intact. The investigation plunges March and Healy into some seedy places in L.A. and into the smutty and grimy world of the porn industry. One of the film’s more amusing sequences occurs when Holly follows the guys on their investigation that brings them to a porn industry party. From the moment they arrive up to their dramatic exit from the party, this was easily one of the most entertaining sequences I’ve seen in a film in a very long time.
Just as we may think we have the plot figured out, Black throws in a twist by bringing in Kim Basinger as the head of the Department of Justice who enlists the help of Healy and March. In typical buddy cop film fashion, there is of course plenty of action and violence. Just because the film is titled The Nice Guys, both characters manage to do some pretty horrible things in the film, but manage to stay charming throughout.
In a lot of ways, I see this film as a spiritual sequel/prequel to Black’s directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s as though he is creating his own detective world in L.A. While there are numerous similarities to previous works of Black, the one thing that jumped out at me the most was how fun this is and how fun the characters are. It’s as though his films have made the transition from being brooding and angry to simply wanting to kick back and have a good time. But it’s not a film that goes for cheap laughs like an Adam Sandler or Kevin Hart film; here, the laughs are earned without being talked down to. Go figure…a smart comedy that manages to also not be pretentious.
But the film does have one major flaw that bugged me. There is a moment around the second and third act transition where things just sort of change for the characters and their motivation to go to an auto show. I think this is an editing issue because it feels like a scene or two has been removed, and it just kind of messed with the pacing of the film.
As the film goes into its third act, I understand why many people will have a problem with it, as it kind of goes a more slapstick route and feels like an Abbott and Costello routine. Personally, I’m still on the fence with this; it’s silly, but not really anything sillier than other sequences in the film. When I heard a critic actually say this was horrible and too spoofy, I just shook my head wondering what movie did he just walk out of?
The Nice Guys is hilarious and entertaining throughout. As the film riffs on Raymond Chandler, this movie should just tickle your geek spot, especially if you’re a fan of film noir and gumshoe detective stories. As for the casual movie fan that just wants to have a good time, the film delivers and has a great soundtrack along with it. One thing I’m also willing to bet, there will at least be a few lines from this film that are quote worthy classics. “I had to question the mermaids, what were you doing while I was working?”