Shane Black’s sincerely affectionate love letter to “The Rockford Files” and the seventies in general, “The Nice Guys” is another helping of knowingly comic crime capers, powered by the amiably gruff charisma of Russell Crowe and an unexpected masterclass in physical comic timing from Ryan Gosling.
Holland March (Gosling) is a private detective and borderline con man who spins dead end cases out for as long as he can, or as long as his clients can afford to pay him. When his latest case – tracking down a missing girl – results in him getting ‘warned off’ by freelance hired muscle Jackson Healy (Crowe) he’s ready to drop the matter. That is, however, until it turns out March wasn’t the only person looking the girl and the two men are forced to team up to get to the bottom of things.
Nominally set in 1977, the film – as is writer/director Shane Black’s wont – plays fast and loose with chronology, peppering the movie with jokes, references and musical choices which give a generally seventies vibe without necessarily having been around in that particular year. Did you know Tim Allen was on the LA stand-up circuit in the late seventies? This movie sure does. Looks-wise, though, the film absolutely nails the style and conventions of seventies detective thrillers. This Los Angeles is a hotbed of carefree hedonism, sex, drugs and eccentric henchmen, the perfect setting for a well-balanced action/ comedy which manages not to overdo either. The film barrels along on the heady fuel of the two leads’ on screen chemistry. Blessed with Black’s witty script, both Crowe and Gosling seem to be having a blast and there’s some unexpected pathos and heart provided by Angourie Rice as March’s daughter Holly.
In many ways, “The Nice Guys” is the epitome of a Shane Black movie: his ‘greatest hits’ compilation. It features a hero forced to team up reluctantly, involves a kidnapping plot device, taps into action, comedy, noir and makes an oblique reference to Christmas. The counter-point to all this, of course, is that if Black’s distinctive style doesn’t work for you (as it didn’t for a very vocal couple who went to the same showing I did), you might find some of the idiosyncrasies and non-sequiturs of the film irritating rather than amusing.
“The Nice Guys” – which began life as a potential pilot for a TV series – is a bawdy and boisterous romp through the seedy world of seventies Los Angeles’ underworld of crime and corruption reaching all the way from the porn industry to city hall and beyond. It’s a well crafted, well acted and – if Russell Crowe’s anything to go by – well catered production and might just be the most fun movie released this year.