FILM REVIEW – THE NICE GUYS. With Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger. Written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi. Directed by Shane Black. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use. 116 minutes.
Shane Black doesn’t have the cachet of Quentin Tarentino, but he’s getting there. He first came to notice as a screenwriter of over the top action films like “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout,” and then finally got to direct with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” In his third film as director (after “Iron Man 3”), Black is back with the sort of bent thriller that made “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” different from most of what was out there. THE NICE GUYS is at once very violent, very funny, and a true original.
Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) have a bizarre “meet cute” in 1977 Los Angeles. Healy, who’s not really a private investigator, is hired to beat up March to scare him off his latest case. However they soon join forces in the search for a missing woman involved with a porno film that has already led to the deaths of several other people. Like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon” or Val Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr. in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Crowe and Gosling are an odd couple. If their characters can figure out how to work together without getting killed, they just might crack the case.
Black (who wrote the script with Anthony Bagarozzi) recreates a time when porn meant physical film not the internet, as the two detectives–and March’s precocious 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice)–follow the leads. These include hit men, an elderly woman who believes her dead niece is still alive, a self-described “projectionalist,” and the head of the Justice Department (Kim Basinger briefly reuniting with her “L.A. Confidential” co-star Crowe).
One quickly loses track of the “collateral damage” of innocent bystanders caught up in the mayhem, but the scene that may best sum up Black’s unique take on the material is when March discovered a dead body in an unexpected place and tries to get Healy’s attention. Fans of the comedy horror classic “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” will instantly pick up that Gosling is channelling Lou Costello as he soundlessly tries to attract his partner’s attention while simultaneously conveying the horror of his bloody discovery.
In the end the plot doesn’t bear too much analysis. It’s a vehicle for us to enjoy the buddy cop film which could, quite possibly, launch a new franchise. That has yet to be determined. However, for those who want their action as pulpy as possible but want some laughs as well, Black nicely mixes it up while deftly managing the unexpected chemistry between Crowe and Gosling. “The Nice Guys” turns into a film that is not only set in the ’70s, but carries the sensibility as if it was made then as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.