The Nice Guys (2016)
Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley
The Nice Guys is a 70s buddy-cop crime-caper that proves that most things can be forgiven if you’ve got enough style.
The Nice Guys is an action/comedy detective flick set in 70s Los Angeles - so its cool status is already pretty much confirmed. From the opening bars of Papa Was a Rolling Stone* to those of Love and Happiness**, The Nice Guys is a deliciously polished time capsule from 1977, embodied perfectly by Gosling’s moustache/soul patch combo. It has its flaws, it has its setbacks, but it is always difficult to dislike like a film which is so drenched in that almost universally coveted asset - cool.
From his leather jacket to his knuckle-dusters, Crowe’s Jackson Healy is effortlessly bad-ass, settling into his hard-man routine with worrying ease, with a past that is briefly but sufficiently explored, providing just enough depth to make his character likable. Meanwhile, Gosling demonstrates a clear knack for physical comedy in The Nice Guys, his Holland Marsh taking most of the punishment throughout the film. As amusing as it is to watch, Gosling’s character seems to rely a little too much on being hurt to generate the laughs, which wears a bit thin after the first half-an-hour. This is a shame, as he has some of the best lines in the film; in fact, the film often shines through with sophisticated comedy gold, something akin to The Big Lebowski (1998) or Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Unfortunately, too much emphasis is placed on Gosling’s continuous falling over/off things and yelping in pain, subtracting from the more tactful comedic elements, overall landing the film dangerously close to slapstick territory. For a film with all the components for a stylish crime caper, this over-reliance on hijinks does seriously endanger The Nice Guys’ cool status.
Fortunately, as buddy cop relationships go, Crowe and Gosling hit the nail on the head. They possess a Lee/Carter (Rush Hour, 1998) ability to fail upwards, combined with a Starsky/Hutch (Starsky & Hutch, 1975-79; 2004) style clash of personalities, the chemistry between them being both believable and outrageous - the greatest moments of comedy in The Nice Guys happen during Crowe and Gosling’s quickfire swapping of dialogue. It would be a crime not to mention, however, Angourie Rice’s fantastic performance as Gosling’s on-screen daughter Holly Marsh. Rice simultaneously functions as our heroes’ moral compass and as a heroine in her own right - ultimately turning our buddy cop duo into a trio by the movie’s end. It is from her that many of the film’s more tender moments (few and far between they may be) are generated, and her role brings an amount of depth to our protagonists which otherwise may have been neglected.
The plot does lose a bit of its energy towards the end. After beginning its story with an audience magnet (the brutal death of an adult film star), where The Nice Guys ends up is somewhat underwhelming, and much too convoluted. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, it just isn’t in keeping with the provocative, mysterious tone of the film up to that point. The story suddenly becomes much more complicated than the viewer has been led to expect, and momentum is definitely lost during ‘the big reveal’, which is, frankly, just not sexy enough. That being said, Black and Bagarozzi manage to shape the film’s action-packed climax into something satisfying and exciting enough to keep the film's firm grip of the viewer’s attention from slipping.
Despite misfiring on a few elements, The Nice Guys is an excellent addition to the buddy-cop film genre, and one of the most stylish that’s been released in recent years. Its sleazy, 70s feel definitely carries the film, and permits the viewer to forgive its overuse of slapstick and its somewhat flaccid plot twist.
In one word: Cool.
In one line: Falls short of perfection, but The Nice Guys' style and swagger will keep you hooked right from its opening scene.
*The Temptations, (1972)
**Al Green, (1972)