Warner Bros. 1 hour 56 minutes R
Take one part standard detective drama, two parts buddy comedy and time travel back to 70’s Los Angeles in a Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Lethal Weapon series) action script. That’s THE NICE GUYS. Black directs Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the unlikely duo tracking down a porn star’s killer and why her last film is such a “hot” property.
The Nice Guys is not so nice in terms of violence. The body count is substantial. You know you’re in for a bumpy ride when the movie opens with a naked, dead porn star. This movie earns its R-rating, but it mostly comes across as cartoon violence.
Gosling takes the comedic lead and Crowe seems happy to play the straight man. Gosling shows his appreciation for the history of great comedy teams like the Marx Brothers and especially Abbott and Costello. In one scene where he’s scared, he mimics the classic Lou Costello inhaled wheeze. He nails it!
Gosling plays Holland March, a former police detective who left the force and climbed into a bottle after his wife died. His precocious daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) is both child and parent to the floundering father. She’s becoming a pretty good gumshoe in her own right too. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy. He only finds work as “muscle” in the grimy underbelly of L.A. Healy gets paid to beat up low-life stalkers, perverts and deadbeats late on their payments. That’s how Healy and March come together when Healy mistakenly targets March, pummels him and breaks his arm.
After these hilarious first 15 minutes the film gets down to a fairly by-the-book “let’s get to the bottom” of this mystery. But Shane Black keeps our interest with the setting, the time frame and especially the music. Producer Joel Silver (The Matrix, Die Hard) can take a lot of the credit for creating the details of the 70’s like the clothing, the cars and references to media. The Waltons are involved in many punch lines and the villain in the tale is even named John Boy (Matt Bomer).
We have to make mention of the nostalgic soundtrack. The disco, R&B and pop tunes stand out as their own characters. Songs like Boogie boogie Oogie by A Taste of Honey, Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire and Jive Talkin’ by the Bee Gees pus many more oldies but goodies don’t just provide the background they truly place the time and the feel of the moment, both emotionally and for comedy.
Black also includes political and environmental issues in the script. Smog in L.A., long gas lines and auto industry greed are all introduced and come into play in the unlikely but funny pursuit of a film can with a porno flick that relates to all those issues. Nice trick but at times it all felt rather confusing trying to sort out the booze, drugs dead bodies and saving the world.
Is this movie worth your bucks? The growing partnership between Crowe and Gosling is fun to see develop especially when it begins with repeated punches and a broken arm. There are real laughs here. Gosling was given the opportunity to improvise many scenes and even though he says a lot of that didn’t make it onto the screen he shows a real appreciation for understanding comedy and working hard for those laughs. Watch for the bathroom door slam scenes. The timing is really effective. The set up for a sequel is in plain sight and our bet is it’s on the way. Yes, spend your bucks to boogie with The Nice Guys.