The bizarre, sleazy and wildly wonderful “The Nice Guys” is sure to be a movie that divides audiences. It’s one of those dark, semi-inaccessible films that defies categorization and is just plain strange. Director Shane Black skillfully captures the gritty feel and spirit of late 1970s cinema. The film’s tone successfully mixes violence, humor and an enjoyable “whodunit” conspiracy storyline with some truly magnificent vintage set decor and a string of random, memorable single-serving bites of eccentric characters. (Lance Valentine Butler, credited only as “Kid on Bike,” has only a couple of minutes of screen time but man oh man does he make a lasting impression)!
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are private detectives who team up to solve a missing persons case. March is the “brains” and Healy provides the brawn. The film is set in Los Angeles during the 1970s and centers around a murderous scheme involving the burgeoning underground p*rnography industry and the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s a good story and a strong script with a very satisfying conclusion. At times the movie reminded me of a James Ellroy story, but funnier. This made me chuckle even more when Kim Basinger showed up (she and Crowe famously worked together on 1997’s “L.A. Confidential,” a film based on Ellroy’s novel).
The two leads have a genuine, snarky chemistry, so much so that I would love to see them partner up again in future movies. The pair play off each other perfectly and are the true heart of the movie. Adding to the enjoyable performances is Angourie Rice as March’s daughter Holly. You’d think a tween girl character would be the most annoying thing ever but not here; Rice is dynamite as a junior detective and has more than a few meaty scenes in the film.
The acting and set design isn’t all that works: the violent action scenes (and there are lots of them) are more than noteworthy. The film’s bloody opening starts with a young boy sneaking a peek at his dad’s nudie magazine stash. Suddenly adult film star Misty Mountains’ (Murielle Telio) car comes crashing through his house, narrowly missing the kid and maybe even crushing the family dog. This gruesome scene — complete with full frontal nudity — really sets the tone for this distinctively strange comedy. There’s even more fistfights, blood, knives, gunplay and car crashes. Towards the end there’s a phenomenal shootout and action sequence that takes place at a car show. Without question this scene provides one of the greatest thrill rides of the year! It’s so much fun that I can’t stop thinking about it days later.
If you’re sick of seeing the same old boring formula films that Hollywood habitually churns out and are in need of a breath of fresh air, go see “The Nice Guys.” This movie isn’t for everyone, but it’s a true original.
“The Nice Guys” is not an easy movie to review. It defies compartmentalization as it exists in a category all its own.
Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a sad-sack private investigator who is pretty good at his job but even better at drinking and bilking his clients. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a thug-for-hire. In the course of investigating a routine missing-person case in 1970s Los Angeles, March crosses paths with Healy, who has been hired to scare March off the case. The two team up to find the missing girl and in so doing run afoul of the mob, the adult film industry, and the Justice Department — not necessarily in that order.
To say that “The Nice Guys” is unusual for a big summer blockbuster is an understatement. To start, the movie has an offbeat sense of humor that will frustrate or confuse most casual moviegoers (for example, one of the funniest scenes involves a teenage boy that aspires to be a p*rn actor because of his…endowment). Then there is a significant subplot involving the adult film industry — and there is no shortage of nudity to punctuate this point. Those who come for the star power may end up feeling frustrated, as this movie is not standard fare for either actor.
But all of those things — which some may view as negatives — add to the film’s charm. While the writing is uneven, when the movie is at its best the script (by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi) is whip-smart. Black, who also directed, is clearly having a ball here with his material. The setting is used to maximum effect (with plenty of shots of Hollywood and the Sunset Strip circa 1970) and teeters right on the edge of being gimmicky, without ever succumbing completely to the temptation of emphasizing setting over story. There are some outrageously fun set pieces (namely, a party in the Hollywood Hills and an auto show) that maximize time and place. Crowe and Gosling work nicely together; Crowe is understated and Gosling (ever the chameleon) shines in a role that is very different from those he’s taken previously.
Taste, style and subject matter make “The Nice Guys” difficult to recommend, as I have a feeling that most people won’t enjoy it as much as I did. But if you aren’t offended by the subject matter, nudity, or the offbeat humor, you might have a great time watching it, too.