The marketing for The Nice Guys promised a fun throwback detective buddy comedy from writer/director Shane Black, the man who perfected the formula back in the 80s with movies like Lethal Weapon and others. It sold a caper that matched Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and sold the movie based on the chemistry and charisma of those two actors. It delivers on that and so much more.
The story revolves around Amelia, the daughter of Los Angeles federal prosecutor Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger), who has gone missing and is being sought not only by her mother but by some shady mob types as well. On her tail is private investigator Holland March (Gosling), who’s hired by Amelia to warn him off. But when Judith hires both of them to find her, they find themselves wrapped up in an investigation into official corruption, mob activity and lots and lots of murder that they can’t quite get out of.
In case you didn’t see the movie – and based on its disappointing box-office that’s likely true – you need to fix that immediately. Yes, it’s a throwback to the kind of movies they don’t really make anymore but which many of us were raised on a steady diet of. But that’s just the hollow frame on which the performances of Gosling, Crowe and the others are hung on and it’s those, along with a whipsmart script that never stops long enough for you to really take stock of the insanity, that makes it worth watching.
You wouldn’t think someone as traditionally staid at Crowe would make for a commanding comedic presence, but you’d be wrong. While he’s certainly used mostly as the straight man of the pair more often than not, there are a half-dozen moments where he gets to break out and get a full-throated laugh of his own, sometimes with his actions sometimes just by raising his eyebrows. He’s the heavy in the story, but the moments where he’s most memorable are where he’s comedically world-weary and knowing along with the reactions to the antics his partner gets into.
Which brings me to Gosling, who’s just fantastic here. His comedic timing and ability to go for it when the script and dialogue require it are superb and while he appears to be half-asleep for much of the movie, that’s in-character and serves to heighten the comedy. For all the attention he (deservedly) gets as a dramatic actor, the guy just seems to be inherently funny, knowing how to play a comedic scene in a classic, non-showy way. He’s the star here, make no bones about it.
There are two big areas where the campaign didn’t do the movie justice: First, it never really explains why all sorts of interested parties are after Amelia. That’s understandable to some extent since the marketing was trying to sell a vibe and the plot is so convoluted it’s hard to explain concisely, though it makes sense in context. Second, it doesn’t show how important Holly March (Angourie Rice), the young daughter of Gosling’s character, is to the story. She, even more than the two adult men, is largely responsible for piecing things together and finding clues they were missing. Also, Rice is really funny and good in her own right.
Again, if you were among those who missed The Nice Guys in theaters you owe it to yourself to fix that oversight as soon as possible.