The Nice Guys
2016, R, 116 min. Directed by Shane Black. Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Lois Smith, Beau Knapp, Kim Basinger.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 20, 2016
Well, they’re not nice guys, obviously. Movie gumshoes never are – not the tough, terse Philip Marlowe that Humphrey Bogart immortalized in the Forties, and not the loosier-goosier version Elliott Gould played nearly three decades later, nor the pot-addled riff on the genre Joaquin Phoenix put out in 2014’s Inherent Vice. But these professional dicks – pretty dick-ish off the clock, too – have a code nonetheless: Save the girl, even as she’s playing you for a fool; act like you’re only in it for the paycheck, while never letting on that the real prize is in bringing the crooks and the corrupt bastards down a peg. (Hard, hard-boiled truth: You can’t keep a real bastard down.)
Writer/director Shane Black already made a valentine to the hard-boiled detective hero in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Here, co-writing with Anthony Bagarozzi, he wears the same L.A. noir influence, but resists meta-narrating it this time, for a likably tetchy comedy squinting its way through the chest cough of Los Angeles smog circa 1977. (Smog is to The Nice Guys as drought is to Chinatown.) When a dame goes missing, two (not that nice!) guys go looking for her: P.I. Holland March (Gosling), a single father marinating in drink over his dead wife, and a bruiser named Jackson Healy (Crowe) who has his own demons. Reluctantly – like, after one guy breaks the other guy’s arm – they team up to solve the case of the missing girl, chasing clues to the porn industry and Detroit’s auto industry, with March’s crafty pre-teen daughter (the winning Rice) playing Their Girl Friday.
The porn milieu occasions a smattering of déclassé boob shots that went out of style in the Eighties, back when Black first launched his career scripting the first two Lethal Weapon movies. Low-hanging fruit, that, and the same complaint could be lobbed at half the jokes in this comedic thriller. But the other half sings – or zings, whatever – and let’s just all agree now that the Canadian Ryan Gosling is our national treasure. (Canada didn’t know what to do with him.) The tough-guy pose, that De Niro diction he’s spouted in so many dramas – it’s found its true roost in The Nice Guys: as a joke, and one that the actor is 110% in on. I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder all year than at Gosling in a bathroom stall, accidentally dropping a lit cigarette down his pants leg.