The Nice Guys Review
Nice guys finish last, or so the old saying goes. When you look at the fact Donald Trump could be President, Piers Morgan is a prominent media presence, John Terry gets paid £100,000 a week to play football, and Sean Penn is an Oscar winning A-lister, it does indeed seem the odds are stacked against the gentile amongst us. Director Shane Black has taken it upon himself to scientifically disprove the old adage with his latest film The Nice Guys. Like all good scientific experiments or academic assignments, The Nice Guys concludes that nice lads neither finish bottom of the pile, nor do they steamroll ahead through their pleasant charms. Instead The Nice Guys ends up harmlessly slotting into the middle of pack.
Black’s film builds on the buddy cop movie dynamic he fostered with Lethal Weapon by teaming up the loggerheads duo of enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) on a journey into the seedy underbelly of 1970’s Los Angeles – a city that seemingly exists on film to exclusively house top down corruption, shady circles and dodgy coppers. Pitching somewhere between Chinatown, The Big Lebowski and L.A. Confidential, Healy and Holland are paired by fate when their respective cases, involving a missing girl and a dead porn star, cross paths. United by common interests the duo find themselves wading into a mire of debauchery and conspiracy capable of reaching the very top of society.
Like Black’s previous two efforts The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys is homage, verging on parody, to the literary world of pulp fiction, noir and hardboiled detective stories. The mocking outlook championed by the film’s characters, coupled with the Raymond Chandler style narration and convoluted murder plot, identify heavily with the darkly stylish streak of American noir. Despite its coating of cynicism, The Nice Guys never threatens to indulge in the fatalism of noir. It’s a rather glossier affair that uses its influences as an effective layer of paint to coat a vibrant backdrop to the light-hearted, often absurd, proceedings.
In fact the hard-boiled elements wither as the convoluted plot twists, turns and muddles ahead. Instead, a hazy mix of 70s LA staples and seedy surrealism becomes the film’s notable calling card. Healy and March’s investigation takes them into a particularly weird and colourful Hollywood Hill’s party filled with scantly clad dancers, human tables and revellers tottering about dressed like manic offshoots from Alice in Wonderland. Literal dreamy allusions to Richard Nixon and killer bees only adds to the slightly off-kilter appeal. In fact The Nice Guys feels like it could be taking place round the corner from Pulp Fiction’s Jack Rabbit Slims or Mulholland Drive’s Winkie Diner. It’s this peculiar, almost timeless, setting that elevates a fairly routine cop comedy into something much more enticing.
Like Hot Fuzz, The Other Guys, Grimsby and every other buddy cop movie, The Nice Guys’ success rests on the shoulders of its daring duo. With the gruff, physically imposing, Crowe and the handsome affability of Gosling you’ve got a tailor made good cop/bad cop dynamic. Together they operate in predictably complimentary fashion with Healy often dryly lambasting the wimpy, money focused, March. There’s a fine natural flow to March and Healy’s exchanges, eventually building till their chemistry resembles that of old pals ribbing each other over vintage in-jokes. Russell Crowe is not a natural comic, but with Gosling, a deceptively decent funny man, leading most of the gags the two dabble in a combination of classic one liners and slapstick. Perhaps the closest cinematic equivalent to Gosling and Crowe is 48 Hours’ Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy – a fine compliment indeed.
Where The Nice Guys underwhelms is in Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi’s lacking script. Gosling and Crowe, aided by a feisty little Angourie Rice as Holland’s daughter, are a fine combination but the writing fails to match their talents. There simply isn’t enough clout to the gags to convince as a full blown comedy. Too often the jokes fizzle out with a whimper as if they’re embarrassed by their own ineptitude. Similarly, the murder mystery narrative about big business conspiracies and sexy scandals is nothing short of a mess. Quite what the motivation for central investigation actually is stands as an early and crippling quandary. It doesn’t get much better as the conspiracy unravels in disjointed chunks that only add up courtesy of bare-faced exposition.
Don’t get me wrong, Healy and March’s romp round LA is a relentlessly enjoyable one. The problem is that quite unlike Healy’s bear claw of a fist, The Nice Guys lacks a hefty punch. There’s some action, some comedy and some drama but Black fails to merge the elements into a story capable of feeling vital. Occasionally a scene bursts into life, notably the highly amusing elevator episode, but for the most part we’re grounded by lackadaisical pacing. You can’t help but feel in Black’s mind he was creating a darkly cynical action comedy in the mould of In Bruge. Unfortunately for Gosling, Crowe and audiences, Black is so just too damn nice to achieve his lofty ambitions. In the words of Colin Farrell from In Bruge, The Nice Guys isn’t bad, but it’s not great either – a bit like purgatory.
7/10 – Nice Guys Finish in the Middle