The Nice Guys (2016)
Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use
Score: 4 out of 5
The Nice Guys is no revolution as far as R-rated action-comedies are concerned, but it's still a great summertime diversion that's ridiculously funny without insulting the viewer's intelligence -- ironic, given that its plot and much of the humor often rely on the characters being stupid and/or baked out of their minds. While it doesn't really utilize its '70s setting and story for much beyond jokes and style, those jokes are so funny, the style so much fun to watch, and the otherwise boilerplate plot done well enough that I still had a really good time watching this film.
Set in 1979 Los Angeles, our protagonists are two men, the enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and the ex-cop turned private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling). March is investigating the death of a porn star named Misty Mountains at the behest of her aunt, who is convinced that she is still alive. When March's trail leads him to another girl, Amelia, she hires Healy to beat him down and get him to stop following her. Suspecting that somebody is after Amelia, especially after two goons show up at his door asking about her, March recruits Healy to track down her whereabouts and find out who might want her dead, leading them into a conspiracy involving the porn industry, Amelia's moral crusader mom Judith (Kim Basinger), a lawsuit involving the Detroit automakers, and more sleaze than you can shake Dirk Diggler's mammoth Johnson at.
There's just one problem, though: Healy and March are way out of their league, each of them coming with his own baggage that causes this case, far bigger than anything they've ever tackled, to overwhelm them with hilarious results. And this is where so much of the joy of this movie comes from, watching them bumble their way through the film while imbibing large quantities of alcohol, and finding their way through almost by accident. They're smart enough to figure things out on their own, yet rely more on an almost preternatural luck than anything to avoid falling into traps. Crowe and Gosling are both hilarious and endearing, giving a ton of life to Healy and March, and their chemistry is outstanding. Crowe plays Healy as the world-weary veteran of LA's criminal underworld, a guy who's good at punching things and little else, while Gosling plays March as the comparatively young gun who isn't prepared for anything beyond a generic missing persons case. They are both horribly flawed people, but between the performances and Shane Black's writing, we get to care about them. The film's unsung hero, however, was Angourie Rice as March's daughter Holly, who constantly insists to him that she can help his investigation... and honestly, she's probably right. Holly is a cynical, foul-mouthed Nancy Drew who probably gathers half of Healy and March's clues, and were it not for the fact that she's a kid, she could probably have solved the case on her own.
Shane Black also has an uncanny knack for style, capturing the late '70s time period amazingly well. The '70s LA setting is as much a character as the people in it, the music selections getting me in a funkadelic mood while little cues here and there helped to establish the time period. The nature of the plot follows pretty much exactly the twists and turns you'd expect once you figure out what's going on (it's fairly easy to follow), but it too feeds into the '70s atmosphere with a stab at the sort of commentary you'd expect of the time period -- which, of course, serves as the setup to some more of this film's jokes. This is a film that takes its time with the setups, the punchlines often coming in much later on, but when they do, the time and care taken usually pays off in a big way. This film didn't just make me chuckle, I was flat-out laughing hysterically at some of the crazy, debauched moments on screen here. This is one of those comedies that successfully integrates plot and laughs, without ever really separating the two, to great effect. Black also fills the film with plenty of shootouts, fistfights, and car chases for action junkies looking for something a little less overblown in the heat of the summer. Given that the guy made Iron Man 3, it wasn't much of a surprise, but again, the styling really helps sell the '70s cop movie vibe. Whether it was action, comedy, or plot twists, this movie was always pressing forward, the times when it "slowed down", so to speak, never feeling like a drag.
The Bottom Line:
And there's not really much else to say. It's a simple, yet fun and witty buddy action/comedy that does pretty much exactly what you predict it will going in, but is still a worthwhile watch before the summer blockbusters really kick in.