Shane Black, the screenwriter who shot to fame with the Lethal Weapon movies, may have had a few stumbles in the last three decades, but with The Nice Guys, a 1970s noir detective story Black cowrote with Anthony Bagarozzi, Black is firmly in his element.
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play low-rent PI Holland March and enforcer Jackson Healy, respectively, who meet in a painful way—at least for March—but then team up when clues indicate that Healy’s missing client, a girl named Amelia (The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley), may be in grave danger. When they step up their search for her, the violence escalates, as mysterious parties either don’t want her found or they want her dead.
Part of the fun of viewing this movie is in its bizarre twists and turns so I won’t say much more about plot. It’s reminiscent of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a low-budget gem Black also wrote and directed, in its style and tone, and in how much of the action occurs during one very long night.
The biggest pleasure is in watching Gosling and Crowe sling Black’s signature rat-tat-tat lines at each other with perfect comic timing. Yes, the movie is seedy and brutal, but the, ah, Black humor makes it very funny also. The actors’ chemistry is so good, you’d think these guys have been partners for decades. Gosling displays physical comedy chops I didn’t know he has, and it’s the loosest Crowe performance in years.
Also noteworthy is Angourie Rice (you wouldn’t now she’s Australian by listening to her) as March’s tween daughter Holly, who often has to be the adult in her dealings with Dad. Rice delivers her lines in a dry, weary, but sharp-witted way, depicting a girl who understands much more than her father gives her credit for, and is usually the only sane person in the room.
The city of L.A. is a character in itself, all seductive at night despite its crumbling Hollywood sign and porn industry and drug-addled parties. Another selling point? This movie isn’t a sequel or remake and there are no superheroes in sight.
Nerd verdict: Funny, noirish Nice
Photo: Warner Bros.