THE NICE GUYS ½
R, 116 mins.
2016, R, 116 mins.
Ryan Gosling as Holland March / Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy / Angourie Rice as Holly / Margaret Qualley as Amelia / Ty Simpkins as Bobby / Kim Basinger as Judith Kutner / Matt Bomer as John Boy / Keith David as Older Guy
Directed by Shane Black / Written by Black and Anthony Bagarozzi
Black has this impeccable knack for mixing acerbic and rapid-fire dialogue
with macabre violence and spirited tomfoolery as good as any filmmaker.
The smart-assed macho banter that permeates his films is
endearingly infectious and often helps override some of the lesser
qualities of his sometimes convoluted and murky narratives.
Black also completely reenergized – although often mistaken for
having invented – the buddy action comedy genre of the 1980’s,
having penned scripts for films like 1987’s LETHAL WEAPON.
His work on hardcore action scripts cemented his reputation as a
pioneering original that bucked industry status quos.
That, and the man positively loves Los Angeles, which frequently
serves as his muse.
NICE GUYS, astoundingly just Black’s third film as a director (behind IRON
MAN 3 and his 2005 debut KISS KISS BANG BANG), is sort of a
culmination of all of his creative drives.
It’s a buddy action film in the purest Shane Blackian sensibility:
it’s a period film set in the City of Angeles of the hedonistically
groovy 1970’s; it’s an ultra-violent and frequently skuzzy mystery
noir; and it’s a delectably droll comedy of errors involving two
in-over-their-heads buffoons. The
film strikes an overall tough balance between being a frequently
hysterical work replete with pratfalls and deliciously zippy
quips aplenty and a tale of the seedy levels of moral corruption within
the underbelly of the L.A. porn industry of the aforementioned neon-shaded
era. It could easily be said
that Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi don’t really take many
chances with the underling material and the film's central murder mystery is
dizzyingly murky and confusing at times, but there’s simply no denying
the pleasure of witnessing Black’s confident showmanship on display, not
to mention the remarkable comedic chemistry of its two wonderfully cast
against type lead actors.
tubbier-than-usual Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a self-described
“messenger” that works in 1977 L.A. and spends his days delivering,
yes, messages to all sorts of deplorable vermin…typically with his fists,
but sometimes with bats, guns, or anything else that will get his
“message” across and across swiftly.
He takes a job from a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley),
who asks the punch-happy Jackson to stop P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling)
from following her. Now,
what’s interesting is that Holland has been hired to locate Amelia, who is
presumed dead by many close to her. No
matter, because when Jackson locates Holland he politely asks him to stop his
investigation…by breaking his arm.
Holland doesn’t take kindly to Jackson’s go-for-broke negotiation
for all, things get perpetually complicated.
For starters, two deranged thugs asking Jackson for information
regarding Amelia’s whereabouts viciously attack him.
Realizing that things are not what they immediately seem, Jackson returns to the obviously resentful
Holland and decides that the pair should
actually team-up to uncover just what in the hell is going on.
Holland reluctantly agrees to the short-term partnership, and with
the help of his shrewdly intelligent 13-year-old daughter and gumshoe in
the making Holly (Angourie Rice), the team begins their investigation.
Clues begin to mount up, especially in the form of the recent death
of a porn actress named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) that dies in a
fiery car crash under suspicious circumstances that may or may not have
ties to Amelia. A chance
encounter with Amelia’s mother – who turns out to be a high ranking
governmental official, played by Kim Bassigner – leads Jackson and
Holland down another path, but the deeper the less-than-dynamic duo digs the more
dangerous trouble they find themselves in, much to our overall amusement.
never in a million years would have thought that the pairing of Russell
Crowe and Ryan Gosling would have made for the most inspired silver screen
comedic duo of recent memory, but THE NICE GUYS unquestionably proved me
wrong. There’s something to
be said about casting ostensibly dramatic actors for comedic roles…and
vice versa. Crowe and Gosling
have been funny in previous films, but nothing to elicit their casting
together as a couple of dim-witted knuckleheads scoring the hearty laughs that they do here, and the two make for a rather dynamic pairing of
inspired simpletons. Black is
very quick to point out, though, that Holland and Jackson are by no means
squeaky clean “heroes.” Jackson
is a violent blunt-forced hooligan with a hot temper and Holland is a sniveling
alcoholic that will sheepishly lie his way out of any situation, hostile
or not. Yet, for as unscrupulous
as the two men are capable of being, they’re not malicious beings, nor
are they complete dummies. They do get the job done, as only they know how, and
habitually get results. Watching
Crowe and Gosling completely inhabit these blundering personas and display
such an unmatched chemistry is one of the real standout coups of THE NICE
in particular is so often regarded as a somber and intensely focused
thespian that viewers and critics often overlook what a multi-versed
performer he is when it comes to subverting his sex symbol image by making
a complete ass of himself on camera.
He has an intuitive gift for timing and deadpan delivery…not to
mention an affinity for selling broad physical gags.
He occupies two of the more side-splitting moments in THE NICE
GUYS, the first involving him on the toilet, trying to intimidate and hold
off a potentially hostile Jackson while performing a number two and
juggling a magazine, a cigarette, and a gun at the same time. The second sequence is the funniest, featuring the inebriated
Holland coming face-to-face with a corpse with a massive head wound.
He tries to frequently scream for help, but all that comes out is a
stammering Lou Costello-esque series of out-of-breath utterances that made
me endlessly howl with approval. I love the fact that THE NICE GUYS – even when its story
careens down some truly unpleasant and grim alleys – still manages to
layer on some affectionately rendered slapstick to the proceedings. Serving as a straight man (or straight girl) to all of
Holland’s jackassery is his daughter, played with radiating spunk and
naturalness by the young Qualley, who achieves the impossible by showing
up the veteran talent of the film’s two leads on multiple occasions by
stealing individual scenes and demonstrating why her character is
sometimes the smartest person in the room.
also knows how to sell L.A. in his films.
Miraculously, THE NICE GUYS was shot in Atlanta doubling for L.A.,
but you could have fooled me. With
aid from the hypnotically immersive cinematography by Philippe Rousselot
(that bathes the screen with the desired level of smog-hazed, yet
buoyantly colorful atmosphere) and tour de force production and costume
design, there’s rarely a moment in the film when Black doesn’t
complete sell us on the veracity of its time period.
THE NICE GUYS draws many obvious aesthetic cues from BOOGIE NIGHTS
(another 70’s era film steeped in the burlesque counterculture of the
Californian porn industry) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (a mystery noir set in
1950’s L.A. that featured both Crowe and Bassigner), but its production
artifice is just as robustly assured. More often than not, far too many movies use the
stylistic garishness of the 1970’s as an unintentional source for cheap
laughs. Black has none of
that here; he uses the period specific settings as a backdrop for THE NICE
GUY’S and allows the delightfully drawn characters do all of the heavy
THE NICE GUYS, very similarly to KISS KISS BANG BANG, often veers towards storytelling nonsensicality and takes an awfully long time to payoff the litany of new clues, false starts, shocking revelations, and investigation detours that falls upon the hapless Holland and Jackson. If anything, the script here could have benefited from a slicker and more concise re-write to hone everything down to a manageable and understandable whole. Yet, I derived so much unbridled pleasure in spending time with the brilliantly irresistible coupling of the fully committed Crowe and Gosling that I started to care less about any scripting foibles. The ending of THE NICE GUYS has a subtle reference that more potential misadventures for these loveable screw-ups are in store.
I'm totally hip to that jive.
MY CTV REVIEW: