Shane Black films have a similar structure—neo-noir thriller mixed with “odd couple” comedy. Think Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans in The Last Boy Scout, or Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, all of which written and/or directed by Black. Basically, if you liked those movies, you’re going to enjoy The Nice Guys.
Set in 1970s Los Angeles, investigators Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are begrudgingly brought together in the search for a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who’s somehow associated with the death of a porn star and who also happens to be the daughter of Department of Justice Director Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger).
Honestly, the plot is the weakest part of The Nice Guys, even with the colorful and hilarious porn adjacency. It’s a “solve the mystery” story that ends with the predictable villain being predictably busted. Sure, there are a few twists and turns in the plot that you won’t see coming, but those twists and turns aren’t meant to enhance the plot. Nope, they’re meant to drive the characters.
That’s the common theme in all of Black’s films, though. Characters first, everything else second. It works because Black is able to craft well-rounded, incredibly enjoyable characters. Not to mention, he takes actors who make you think “Wait…those two are in a movie together?” (because, let’s be honest, that’s what we all thought when this trailer came out) and writes complementary “foil” parts that still showcase individual talents.
Crowe and Gosling are a weird mix, but god they have great chemistry onscreen. Healy is essentially a more likable version of Crowe—he assaults people, has a grumbly demeanor, and is the more seasoned of the two. Gosling’s March, on the other hand, is the goofball who bites off more than he can chew, has a drinking problem, and is raising a teenager daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), who outwits him and Healy the whole movie. If this isn’t selling you on The Nice Guys, I don’t know what will.
No, just kidding. I know what will. The comedy. While the combination of Crowe and Gosling is the root of this movie’s hilarity, it’s Gosling who leads the charge. From his drunken visions about killer bees and Richard Nixon to his weak stomach and inability to keep tabs on his gun, Gosling is the reason for most of the laughs.
But the thing I loved most about the comedy in The Nice Guys was that it wasn’t nonstop laughs. This isn’t one of those movies where they sling half-assed jokes at you for two hours and hope a few of them stick. No, Black and writing partner Anthony Bagarozzi are about the long-game—the jokes that require a lot of setup before the payoff. It makes the laugh feel more deserved, you know?
The Nice Guys: B+
Listen to my review of The Nice Guys on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 59:28).