Voiceovers, Christmas, buddy cops, and dead women: The Nice Guys has everything that you’d expect from a Shane Black film, without much of the charm that most of the others have. Going for broke, Black opens The Nice Guys with a car crashing into a kid’s house and revealing a dead porn star, tits hanging out, blood splashed on her, and legs sort-of tastefully crossed. Turns out she’s part of a sprawling crime narrative that investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) will stumble into when life throws them together into a crime-solving duo involving another missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).
As it works its way through nearly two hours of awkward crime plotting, The Nice Guys tries a little too hard to make itself into a comedy. A movie featuring an experimental porn film that reveals government secrets at its center is already bold and amusing enough in concept, so much so that it shouldn’t be relying on already-done quips and physical comedy that gets repetitive. Much of the casual sexism and homophobia will be excused by it being a period film, but so much of the humor is hit-or-miss to the point where the most refreshing bits are when Gosling and Crowe only have each other to interact with.
Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi have trouble breaking out of the mold that Black has established throughout his long buddy-film career, something that will either prove frustrating or delightful depending on your fondness of his writing. But Gosling and Crowe work beautifully opposite each other. Their performances are inarguably the film’s biggest driving force, with its other best feature being the good old-fashioned production value. Every moment feels like the ‘70s film folks paid money to see, and the soundtrack is brimming with 70s hits, even if they’re more underused and cut away from than every tune in a David O. Russell movie.
For a film with an abundance of supporting actresses, none of them amount to anything except for Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s daughter and delivers delightful one-liners at every beat. Kim Basinger, whose character Judith Kutner is embedded in the Department of Justice, gets a whole five to ten minutes of screen time due to its half-baked plot. Every attempt at a twist leads it down another predictable route, with a lazily written femme fatale or a dead girl waiting behind every corner. Sure, every actor is committed to their material, but the problem with The Nice Guys is that it thinks it’s being hilarious when it’s really being bland.
The Nice Guys can’t be completely dismissed as it does thankfully feature some entertaining fights and chase sequences (particularly in its climax, which comes as a breath of fresh air after trudging through what feels like forever of plotting). Those totally in love with Shane Black’s typical tropes will eat it up while those growing tired of them will find this another exercise in indulgence from the filmmaker with little to hold their interest. For the folks just entering the world of Black—however hard to believe, there are still many, as witnessed at my press screening—do yourself a favor by checking out Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or any of the films he’s written instead.
Directed by Shane Black; written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi; starring Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley, Angourie Rice, and Matt Bomer; 116 minutes.